HARTSVILLE, SC – Darlington County School District officials broke ground Tuesday for construction of two new elementary schools, one in Hartsville and one in Lamar, each expected to cost about $20 million.
The two schools are among three the district is building at a total cost of about $60 million.
“This is a great day for the Darlington County School District and a great day for our community,” said Superintendent of Education Dr. Tim Newman.
The new Hartsville school will consolidate and replace the aging Washington Street Elementary and West Hartsville Elementary schools. The nearly 84,000-square-foot school will be built on 42.8 acres of land on Bay Road between Bobo Newsom Highway and Westwinds Drive.
The school will initially serve grades one through five with the capability of expanding for kindergarten in the future should district officials decide to consolidate Southside Early Childhood Center. Core capacity at the new school will be about 650 students, Newman said.
Lamar’s new school, which will be located across from the intersection of Country Club Road and Lamar Highway (U.S. 401), will combine and replace Lamar and Spaulding elementary schools. It will serve kindergarten through fifth grade.
The new Darlington school is being built on the site of the existing Cain Elementary School and will replace Cain and Brunson-Dargan Elementary School with kindergarten through grade five. It is the only one of the three schools for which a bid has been approved, coming in at $18.3 million.
The six schools to be replaced are small schools with small enrollments. Each is over 50 years old and some older than 60 years.
District officials say aging schools present challenges in maintenance, security measures and the ability to handle current and future technology needs.
Darlington County voters approved the three schools in a $60 million bond referendum in 2016. The bond is financed by a one-cent sales tax.
Newman said Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremonies demonstrate a commitment by the school district and the Darlington County Board of Education to the future of education and children in Darlington County.
“I’m so thankful to the voters of Darlington County,” Newman said. He said for voters to approve the schools in a referendum demonstrates a commitment to children in the community. “It represents a commitment to kids and to education,” Newman said. “It says that they understand that the future depends on our kids. It’s a commitment to the future.”
The new schools, Newman said, will provide 21st century learning capabilities to students.
Newman said building the new schools also sends a powerful message to the business community. “It says that Darlington County is open for business, and education is going to be at the forefront of that,” he said.
One of the first considerations for businesses looking to locate in or expand in a community is the quality of the local schools, Newman said.
Darlington County Board of Education Chairman Warren Jeffords of Lamar echoed that. “This is just the start,” Jeffords said. He said the three new schools will facilitate economic growth in each of the communities they will serve.
“Anytime we build new schools it’s always exciting,” Jeffords said. He said building the new schools shows pride in Darlington County and will help promote economic growth in the county and in the three communities. “This is a great day,” he said.
“This has been a long, four-year process,” said Society Hill board member Connell Delaine.
Hartsville board member Charles Govan said brick and mortar alone will not make a quality school. It takes quality programs, good teachers and community and parental support, he said.
Construction of the three schools will take place simultaneously, according to Dale Collier, president of Brownstone Construction Group of Columbia, the construction management firm overseeing the three projects.
Plans call for the new schools to open by the fall of 2020.
District officials have not yet named the new schools.
The Cain site was identified as the site for the Darlington school early in the planning process. A total of 19 sites were considered for the Hartsville school and eight for the Lamar school, according to officials.
To be approved as a location, the site had to meet certain criteria and be approved by the South Carolina Department of Education’s Office of School Facilities (OSF).
The cost of the land also had to be within the school district’s budget.