CHESTER, S.C. — School safety is top of mind in Chester County, where leaders say the school buildings are dangerously outdated.
Now the school district is asking taxpayers to vote for a $263 million bond referendum in May so that it can update the district’s schools and facilities.
“This is not something that we’re just asking for as something that’s a want,” Antwon Sutton, Chester County Schools superintendent, said. “These are needs. These are desperate needs.”
He points to Chester High School as one example. The school was built in the 1970s in a system of pods, meaning if you get into one classroom, you have access to seven more because of pods that connect classrooms.
The school’s principal, Duane Graham, who once attended Chester High as a student, said there are multiple, unsecured entrances.
“I want to say it’s probably about 15 doors around the building that come into main entrances like that. It’s almost impossible to secure that kind of building,” Graham said. “I went here 33 years ago, and it’s the exact same building.”
Safety isn’t the only concern. Graham said students don’t have adequate restrooms, classrooms, locker rooms, or even a lunchroom that can comfortably seat all students.
It's a far cry, he said. from neighboring counties.
“Our students deserve a lot better, and they should get a lot better,” Graham said. “I’m hoping our community will move on this and approve the bond.”
The district does face a challenge convincing voters.
In the last five years, two similar bond referendums failed to pass, and they were each asking for less than half of what the district is asking for now.
Sutton said rising costs and the continued deterioration of buildings mean the costs will continue to rise. He said Chester County Schools haven't had a bond referendum since the early 1990s.
“Construction costs are continuing to escalate," Sutton said. "There are labor shortages, there are supply shortages. The amount isn’t going to decrease a lot. It’s going to escalate. ... So that’s why we’re stressing to the public that we need to act now.”
Sutton said the district has already received feedback from residents, but he is still hoping to hear from more people. He also said he is prepared to offer tours and personally meet with residents who have more questions.