Pickens High School Location
by Alex Saitta
November 27, 2007
In my opinion, what is inside the new Pickens High School or any of the new schools, should be left up to the employees who work there. They should get what they need, within a budget that is set by the school board.
I think the location of the high school should be a community decision, and that is how I approached this issue. The problem is, when negotiating to buy property, to keep the price down, you can't tell everyone in the community what is going on. I spoke to many community leaders, and asked them in what general location would like the high school located. I spoke to the mayor, city councilmen, the city administrator, members of the board of the chamber of commerce, our local state representatives, former school board members and district administrators who live in the area.
Most all of them said the new high school should be inside the city or no more than a mile or two outside the city. There reasoning was varied, but solid. The high school creates commerce for business, and city businesses should continue to benefit from that because they are paying a large chunk of the taxes to build the school. The high school needs to be close to city water. It also needs to be close to city sewer, which doesnít run much further beyond the city limits. Finally, the school should be as close as possible to city police and fire, which is manned 24-7.
The district office, our real estate agent, citizens, Jim Shelton and myself submitted 19 properties to Al Berry (our real estate agent) and Reggie Hall (Buildings Director) to size-up. I submitted six of those properties for review. Two were recommended to me by the city administration, one was suggested on the www.pickenspolitics.com message board, and I came up with three myself looking at county maps.
The property we ended up buying is about 150 acres, on the southwest corner of Highway 178 and Gravley Road. The property is less than 0.5 miles from the city limit, so it is close to downtown businesses, and city police and fire. The property sits next to a commercial (8" inch) water line, is on the 4-lane section of Highway 178, is less than 3200 feet from city sewer and has a wonderful topography. What I hear through the grapevine is the school administration didnít have a thorough conversation with the city about the sewer, so the cost to provide sewer to the property will be more costly than the district office thought, and advised the board.
The cost of the property was about $2.4 million for about 150 acres, with three houses on it. The houses and the timber on the land will be sold to help offset some of the cost. I got a rough appraisal from a friend who is in real estate, and I gather the district overpaid a bit for the property. Thatís one of the costs of open government. The sellers know you are coming and what you are looking for, plus when you are displacing some homeowners, you have to pay a bit more.
The board broke up into committees, because the tasks at hand are more than any one person on the board can get a handle on. Jim Shelton and I worked together on the Pickens property. The Easley committee was made up of Shelton, Dr. Brice, Kevin Kay, Shirley Jones and I believe June Hay attended those meetings too. The Daniel property had a committee made up of Jones, Hay, Cooper and Dr. Skelton.
Honestly, I didnít like the location of the Easley property, being south of the city, but I figured if the Easley reps were OK with it, than who and I to judge? I donít rub elbows with the people in Easley, like they do.
Concerning the price of the Easley property ($4.0 million, 162 acres or $24,700 per acre), some have said it was way too high. Al Berry said it was fairly priced. I can't say who is right on that, because I did not research it in detail. Large tracts of land like that, which is commerical and in that location are hard to find. Thus, they are generally worth what someone will pay for it. I was only able to find one comparable property. While it was smaller at 34 acres, it was commerical and right across the street from the property the school district bought. It went for $1.8 million or about $52,000 an acres. The county website says the 34 acres is vacant land. Click here for more on that.
It is no secret I think we should have renovated the high schools. It would have addressed the problem, would not have tapped out the district's facilities funds and would have saved loads of money for the taxpayers. The Pickens County version of the Greenville Plan renovates the high schools and puts middle school students in them. If the old high schools are good enough for middle school students, then why not high school students? Their reasoning for building four new high schools is illogical and something the board did not support only one year before.
Another downside of the new high schools and a vocational school approach is it is going to cost even more than I thought. We have problems across the board -- high, middle and elementary schools. As the new schools get more expensive, it slants the plan more toward those schools. As a result, I suspect weíll have facilities aches and pains again within a few years, mainly, because the plan as it stands now doesnít add extra capacity to 13 elementary schools, and the board isnít dealing with some tough issues in Easley.
Donít get me wrong, this plan will solve many of the facilities problems, but with all the money that is being spent, the district should solve all its facilities problems for years and years to come. Poor planning, poor money managment and a lack of political will be to blame.
Who would have thought the cost would ever get this high? Government, itself, sees no limit, and that is one reason why the founding fathers said the people need to limit government. I can remember the first facilities presentation to the board, in April 2005, and it came with a rough cost estimate of $110 million. The figure then rose to $158 million, and then $178 million. The rejected referendum plan was $197 million. The Greenville plan jacked the fix up to $315 million. The school district actually borrowed $336 million, plus it received a premium at issuance, pushing the revenue to $354 million. Plus with the interest itíll earn, the district will have about $384 million for buildings. Some say they worry about Pickens turning into Greenville, with an ever rising cost for the fix. Well, that has been going here in Pickens for over two years now.
In sum, I don't think we could have done better on the Pickens High location. I thank Al Berry, Reggie Hall, the Superintendent and the rest of the board for making this happen. Also, I thank the person who recommended the tract of land on the www.pickenspolitics.com website.