PENDLETON, S.C. (WSPA) – Anderson County School District 4 is trying to find ways to make all of their schools safer.
The school board recently approved efforts to get a $79 million dollar bond referendum to fund improvements and upgrades, including building a brand new middle school.
In the months following the Townville Elementary School shooting, the district has been working with deputies to identify vulnerable areas in their schools.
“There were so many good things and good decisions that were enacted on that day, but as with anything you take time to reflect and say ‘what are some things that we could do better or elevate our efforts?” District 4 Superintendent Dr. Joanne Avery said. “It became very apparent to me that we needed to bring experts that understand safety, that understand if someone wanted to do something bad, you know, what they might be looking for.”
The money from the bond referendum would partly go to strengthening the safety with fencing, gate and road access, and safety communication rooms.
In December, emergency kits were placed at the front of each school. They hold maps, 2-way radios and essential items to help in emergency situations, like school shootings.
Dr Avery said the rooms would help provide inside ears and eyes for police, “The door locks behind them. They can see all of the camera feeds and they have communication tools to be able to communicate out to share where that intruder is and what’s happening.”
It would also fund plans the district has been working on for years. Officials say right now, new HVAC systems and roofs are needed at multiple older schools.
Additionally, they held several meetings and took a district-wide survey to determine what parents believed were needed within the district. They determined many would prefer a brand new Riverside Middle School, to replace the current crumbling one. The school was built in the 1950’s. Officials say they’ve since had to place brackets to help make the building more structurally sound.
“It is not that the school is going to fall down on the students. Clearly, we see that it is going to require significant capital investment and if we put millions into this old school, it would still have structural deficiency,” Dr. Avery explained.
The district still hasn’t decided what would happen to the old Riverside Middle School. Dr. Avery tells 7 News however, that it will not be abandoned. It will likely be sold or donated for other uses.
If the bond referendum is approved, the district plans to build the new middle school at a shared campus with the high school on 85 acres off Boscabel Road. The middle school’s name would remain the same. On the shared grounds, they would revitalize the high school with updates to athletic facilities, a sustainable garden and better parking.
Dr. Avery says recreational areas at all of the schools have areas for safety improvements. “They really are essential that are so important for moving our schools and community forward,” she continued.
District officials say they’re calling for the bond referendum because they couldn’t meet their needs with a penny sales tax that’s already committed to other projects, like building a career center for students. The career center is expected to open in 2 years. “It will be a real game changer for our students,” Dr. Avery said.
“We have constantly been rethinking and debriefing and lessons learned, what can we learn from this situation and safety has always been number one in our schools.”
The bond referendum is up for a vote on May 2nd. The district plans on holding several more meetings to answer questions and inform. They’ll be posting updates to the District 4 website and social media. Here is a link to their website www.anderson4.org .