Why All The Extra Capacity
By Alex Saitta
February 7, 2016
At the start of the school district’s building program there were 110 portable classrooms. Everyone was tired of looking at portables and hearing stories of teachers with their classrooms on carts going from portable to portable because they didn’t have their own classroom. There was a fear with all the money being spent, no one wanted to see portables cropping up in just a few years. So the district administration and school board set out to make sure there wouldn’t be a need for portables for another 20 years. So by design, a ton of extra capacity was added to the schools.
Looking back at my notes of one meeting in 2007, Herb Cooper said all the proposed growth rates were too low and he specifically said Daniel High’s growth rate of 25% was way too low. Dr. Cooper suggested a capacity of 1600 for the new Daniel High. That worked out to adding 55% capacity above the current enrollment. Oscar Thorsland spoke and said Liberty's proposed growth rate of 20% was too low, and he suggested a capacity of 1,000 students or 47% above the current enrollment. Shirley Jones also spoke in favor of this. This would be like building a 10-story building in downtown Pickens.
It was an all at once building program and no one knew where the capacity would be most needed in the decade or two to come, so lots of capacity was proposed. Those proposals were dialed back by trustees like Jim Brice and myself. However a ton of capacity was addedd throughout the system.
Some of the schools they now cite with too much extra space, had a lot of space added to them during the building program. For instance, Ben Hagood added 7,000 square feet, Holly Springs 10,000 sqf, Ambler 12,000 sqf and AR Lewis 11,000 sqf, McKissick 25,000 sqf and Central 13,000 sqf was added. A total of 800,000 square feet was added district wide or a 38% increase.
That Was Then…
The old district administration is gone and more than half of the old board as well. Naturally, those looking at the figures today, see all this extra capacity and ask why? Now there is an effort to wring out some of that extra capacity that was recently added. Millions of dollars were spent to add these classrooms and extra capacity, so it makes little sense to spend more trying to wring it out. It would be like one boss paying someone to dig a hole and then the new boss paying someone to fill the hole back in.
I was thinking, this is why we get a new reading program/ initiative every two or three years. We get a new state Superintendent, the district's administration changes or the Governor gets an idea, and the current plan is dumped and more money is spent going in yet another new direction.
The fear the school board of 2006 and 2008 had was (after spending all this money -- a generation of construction) they knew the public would not support another round of building later on. So the board made sure they added enough extra capacity for the next 20 years. Like I mentioned above, some wanted to added even more.
To justify it, they used the mantra, build the schools, and they will come. Others said, industry would come to Pickens County when they see these wonderful new high schools. Honestly, I doubted both then and was one who leaned against adding all that Dr. Cooper, Thorsland and Jones proposed. It was trimmed back, but still a ton of capacity was added -- 38% more.
Fast forward to the here and now.... The first question is, given the extra capacity is in, and we are paying for it until 2032, is it wise to take it out? No. I never believed the mantra build them and they will come. I had my doubts about industry coming in -- the county lacks the ingredients like an interstate highway. However my concern today is the potential of Greenville sprawl.
Sprawl by definition is beyond the natural growth of county or city, but a rapid migration or increase in population like what we saw on Woodruff Road moving south in Greenville.
If (and some say when) those areas south and east of Greenville become too pricey, the sprawl of Greenville will then either turn north toward NC or west toward Pickens. My belief is it is likely to go west toward Pickens because most of the main roads run East-West. We are already seeing the sprawl run west along I-85 and then north up SC 153 into Easley. It is starting to spread west along SC 123 on the south side. Next it would run west on SC 93 to Liberty. (Just a personal note. This is the reason why I invested in real estate along that SC 123 and SC 93/ Liberty corridor.) From there it would run from SC 123 north up SC 135. Then from SC 93 north up US 178.
Sprawl’s symptoms are: First, the housing demand sky-rockets and rents go through the roof. Second, stores crop up as those people move in. Rents get high enough, it becomes cheaper to own, so housing construction starts.
The second question is, is the recent growth we are seeing just a continuation of the natural growth of our county or is it a symptom that Greenville is tapping out going south and east and is now sprawling west into Pickens and we will see rapid growth here the next 10 or 15 years?
I don’t know.
But if Greenville sprawl does turn west into Pickens, the extra capacity is in the the schools and it is already paid for. I know the board majority is saying growth will remain low. Likely it will, but they could be wrong. This extra capacity is a insurance policy we paid for just in case growth accelerates. If they go through with this plan, and close schools, they could get caught with their pants down if/ when the Greenville sprawl turns this way. That's my worry and why I would keep the buildings we have, and focus on maintaining them. This way, if we need the space, it will be there.