Board member: Penny tax needed to replace old Aiken Co. schools

News 12 First at Five / Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014

RIDGE SPRING, S.C. (WRDW) -- The new Ridge Spring-Monetta Elementary and Middle School is just months away from completion.

"The kids, in general, are pretty excited about it," says Ridge Spring-Monetta High School principal Warren Wintrode. "Anytime you get a new facility, it's a good deal."

Wintrode says construction is right on track.

"It's starting to look like a school inside. The lockers will come in and the cabinets are starting to come in," he says.

But its just one phase to rebuild the elementary, middle, and high school in one location. The other phases could take years to build.

"We do have a master plan, we're just lacking the revenue to carry it out," says Ray Fleming, grasping a blueprint of proposed construction at North Augusta High School

Just like Ridge Spring-Monetta, it's the same story at North Augusta High. A science and technology wing is in the works, but that's just one wing in the process of rebuilding the school that currently has hundreds of more students than it has the capacity for.

"With the current revenues, we will not have North Augusta done for the next 20 plus years," says Fleming, the vice chairman of the Aiken County School Board.

Fleming says, right now, the district only receives about $18 million a year for maintaining schools and rebuilding old ones. That money has been good for a new wing at Aiken High School, a cafeteria at Jackson Middle School, and the current construction at Ridge Spring-Monetta and North Augusta High School.

But Fleming wants a penny tax, and he's supporting a bill that's being debated by lawmakers in Columbia.

"If that legislation is passed, then in November, the board can offer on the ballot the opportunity for voters in Aiken County to approve a penny sales tax," says Fleming.

Fleming says the the tax would generate about $20 million more a year for the district, which would mean a faster North Augusta and a faster Ridge Spring-Monetta.

"To get the voters to agree to a raise in taxes, we've got to sell it," says principal Wintrode.

Tuesday night, board members passed it's plan for the next five-years. Even without a tax, the district is going ahead with phase one at North Augusta High School.

Then, in 2015, the district will start building a new Leavelle McCampbell Middle School. It'll be built for $22 million dollars on a 31-acre plot next to Byrd Elementary in Graniteville.

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