FLORENCE, S.C. – Some residents and school officials are applauding the decision to resume pay-as-you go financing for construction in Florence One Schools.
The decision, made by the school board Thursday night, will mean a new Southside Middle School. The school will be funded through available reserve funds and short-term bonds. After the completion of Southside Middle, the district will construct Williams Middle and Savannah Grove Elementary.
“What the action the board has taken signifies to the community is that we are dedicated to execute, within the means available to us, to bring to reality our desire to make public education in Florence, South Carolina, the absolute best possible,” said Porter Stewart, chairman of the board.
Construction should begin in the next six to eight months and may take about two years, according to Superintendent Richard O’Malley.
“The Southside community has been eagerly anticipating a new building for several years, and the opportunities this will bring for our students both in terms of facility enhancement and security improvements are much needed, and I’m excited to see that come to fruition,” said Shand Josey, principal of Southside Middle.
Josey, who is starting her first year as principal of Southside Middle, said she is most excited to see the new building constructed for the increased security it will bring.
The current Southside Middle School has 30 exterior doors, six mobile units and five separate buildings. Josey said students have to cross campus several times in changing classes, which requires constant vigilance.
“The security enhancements that a new building will provide for our students are immeasurable, and that is first and foremost of importance to me and I know to our district and to the board and the superintendent,” Josey said. “So the security enhancements that a new building will provide for us are paramount at this time.”
The new building will also alleviate crowding, Josey said. Southside Middle School has 950 students when it was designed for half that number of students.
The crowding, Josey said, is a challenge for transitions between classes and for school lunches. Students are separated across four lunch times.
The crowding also affects athletic activities and pep rallies.
Josey said the school does not have the space to fit the entire student body for pep rallies, as well as students and community members during athletic events.
“We, as a Southside faculty, are excited to be a part of Florence One and the building program that is going on at this time, and we know that all of the enhancements that are coming at this time are going to be a benefit not just to our students and our teachers but our community as a whole,” Josey said.
Stephanie Rawlinson, a former Southside Falcon, has a daughter who will start at the school this year.
Rawlinson said though her daughter probably won’t have any classes in the new building, she is happy for the community and future Southside Middle students who will go the new school.
“To me, it’s about the whole community; it’s about doing what’s best for the whole community, not just what’s best for my kids,” Rawlinson said. “We’re going to be just as excited for them when they get their new facility as if we were there having a student there.
Rawlinson’s grandfather helped build the school in the 1950s, and there has not been a school built on the south side of town since Dewey L. Carter Elementary, which was built when Rawlinson was in the fourth grade, she said.
“This is a big deal for the south side of town,” Rawlinson said. “It’s time for the schools over here to get some attention.”
Judah Gray, a 2019 South Florence High School graduate, said he moved to Florence in the seventh grade. Southside Middle was the first school he attended.
“I know that Southside facilities are in need of rebuilding badly,” Gray said. “I’m excited for the students who will get to go to the new Southside.”