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Board eyeing funding options for building needs
Effingham County Board of Education

SPRINGFIELD — The Effingham County School District is searching for ways to fund its immediate need for new schools and general enhancements.

Plans call for the addition of an elementary school in three years and a middle school in five years.

During a Nov. 13 meeting of the Effingham County Board of Education, Superintendent Dr. Randy Shearouse reported that he and other district officials recently discussed the situation with Jonathan Pannell, a Savannah attorney who specializes in municipal finance, business law, local governments and public authorities. Pannell works for Gray Pannell and Woodward LLP, which the district has used before for bonds.

Bonds are used by companies, municipalities, states and sovereign governments to finance projects and operations. A bond is a fixed income instrument that represents a loan made by an investor to a borrower

During the talks with Pannell, school officials decided the system will need $100 million to complete its list of projects. Besides the new schools and the acquisition of land for them, the list includes classroom additions at Effingham County High School, athletic facilities improvements at Ebenezer Middle School, Effingham County High School and South Effingham High School and the construction of a performing arts center.

“Of course, as (Pannell) said, you don’t have to draw all $100 million down at one time," Shearouse said. "You can actually draw ($40 million) and do whatever projects you want to do and then draw more later. Your payment wouldn’t be as much if you don’t draw the $100 million all at one time.”

Lamar Allen, chairman of the board, wondered aloud if $100 million is enough, saying, “Two schools will take over half of it.”

Shearouse assured Allen that $100 million would likely be sufficient, adding that the figure could be changed if necessary.

To pay off the bond, Shearouse said the board will have to OK “some bond millage that the voters would approve” in a March 24, 2020, referendum.

In addition, sales tax dollars could be used to pay off the debt, he said, if voters opt to extend the ESPLOST, which will also be on the March ballot.

“That’s the way we feel like it could best be paid for at this point,” Shearouse said. 

Shearouse also discussed an immediate district need. 

Effingham Pope Construction Company is the project manager for the addition of 12 classrooms at South Effingham Elementary School. Construction is set to be completed before the start of the 2020-21 school year.

“I can tell you that (Principal) Mrs. (Anna) Barton is very excited about that addition as they are using every available space that they have right now,” Shearouse said.

The addition will feature two wings — space for an additional 240 students — with six classrooms at a projected cost of $2,988,343 project. For an additional $267,370, the existing bus loop will be demolished and replaced, and other parking lot enhancements made.

Metal wall panels will be added to the gymnasium ($78,000) and the playground expanded and enhanced ($150,000). The growing school has 850 students.

“We have a contingency allowance of $200,00 for things that might come up,” Shearouse said. 

A tower and pump shed will have to be taken down before the wings can be built. Portable buildings will also have to be moved.

“The guaranteed maximum price is $3,684,238,” Shearouse said. “That would include all that is listed there in the bid amount.”

The superintendent said the board has ample resources on hand to fund the addition.

“With the board’s wisdom, of course, it put $1 million in the (regular) budget for construction,” Shearouse said. 

Shearouse added that the new $20 million Rincon Elementary School will be paid off in a couple months and SPLOST funds being used to pay for it can be directed to South Effingham Elementary School. He added that the school district expects a steady flow of ad valorem taxes.

“I think there are lots of different ways to pay for it but I can assure that the money will be there to pay for that new construction at South Effingham Elementary, which is very much needed,” he said.