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Faced with overcrowding, Lex-Rich Five may add $240M bond referendum to November ballot

Overcrowded school classroom illustration.

Faced with overcrowding, Lex-Rich Five may add $240M bond referendum to November ballot

Lexington-Richland Five’s school board is close to making a decision on whether or not to put a $240 bond resolution question on November’s Chapin- and Irmo-area general election ballot.

CHAPIN — Lexington-Richland Five’s school board is fast approaching a decision on approving a bond resolution, potentially putting a $240 million question in front of Chapin and Irmo voters after over a year’s worth of discussion on the state of school facilities and zoning issues.

Should the board vote to place the question on the November general election ballot — and should voters approve the debt — the bonds would fund swaths of infrastructure administrators said is needed to alleviate overcrowding at schools, fix an awkward grade level structure and make needed repairs. But change is coming either way, Superintendent Akil Ross said. His administration has laid out two versions of a plan to restructure and rezone the district, one with the $240 million from bonds, and one without.

Bond-funded projects

The $240 million in bond debt would prioritize security updates, according to a draft of the bond referendum question presented to the board May 6, including new secure vestibule entrances at 12 schools and security camera upgrades at all of its campuses. It would also go to build a new Dutch Fork Elementary School and renovate the current campus into a new Richlex Education Center, which would house the district’s systemwide programs like adult education, its Academy for Success and virtual education programs.

Potential renovations or expansions that could be bond funded include:

  • Renovations at Nursery Road and Seven Oaks elementaries, Dutch Fork and Irmo middle schools, CrossRoads Intermediate and Dutch Fork High.
  • Enclosing classroom walls at Harbison West and Nursery Road elementaries.
  • New classroom wings at Chapin and Lake Murray elementaries.
  • A digital and artificial intelligence-focused lab at Dutch Fork High.
  • A small business incubator and student center at Irmo High.

A wide-ranging plan

Those proposed infrastructure investments are planned in the framework of what the district’s administration is calling the “fix and fill plan,” a proposition to repair aging campuses and reconfigure their student bodies to better fix the area’s current and future demographics. Lexington-Richland Five’s population has shifted toward the Chapin side of the district, putting nearly all of the campuses in that cluster of schools close to their maximum student capacity.

To rebalance that, Ross is looking to rezone the district starting in the 2026-27 school year, bringing an additional elementary campus — Ballentine Elementary — into the Chapin High cluster to provide more room for its elementary population, while rezoning most of its current students into other campuses to keep them in the Dutch Fork cluster.

In order to address the overcrowding in the Chapin area’s higher-level schools, the plan would remake the current Chapin Intermediate campus into Chapin Middle School, and make the current Chapin Middle campus a new Spring Hill middle school. Both middle schools would serve sixth through eighth grades, eliminating the intermediate school concept from the district and implementing a standardized elementary-middle-high progression.

More students from those two Chapin-area middle schools would be encouraged to attend the magnet Spring Hill High, which would have more space available thanks to relocating the districtwide programs to the new Richlex Education Center. A larger Spring Hill would be intended to pull 200 to 250 students away from Chapin High, which is also facing overcrowding.

Some board members have questioned whether relying on Spring Hill as a release valve for Chapin High would be enough to address its soon-overflowing student body, particularly as Spring Hill High lacks some of the standard high school amenities such as sports teams or a full set of art programs. That plan would depend on families choosing to send their students to Spring Hill.

If that doesn’t happen, then avoiding overcrowding at Chapin High would mean rezoning some high schoolers into Dutch Fork High or zoning students into Spring Hill, which administrators and board members have said they’re reluctant to do since it would destroy its magnet status. Some have suggested the district instead build an entirely new high school in the Chapin area. But a new high school campus simply isn’t in the financial cards, Ross said, as it
Faced with overcrowding, Lex-Rich Five may add $240M bond referendum to November ballot

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