In 2013, district officials officially phased out the Port Wentworth Elementary School campus and were moving forward with plans to build a K8 school to replace it on Port Wentworth’s rapidly developing west side. Port Wentworth School posed safety issues, they said. It was located on a busy industrial road and there was a deadly explosion across the street at the Imperial Sugar refinery in 2008.
Construction of Rice Creek School began, some parents and Port Wentworth officials showed up at a board meeting to complain they didn’t want the school to close and they didn’t want their younger children in a large campus with middle schoolers.
The school board went against the superintendent’s recommendation to sell Port Wentworth school for $5 million.
Instead they decided to use Port Wentworth School as an early leaning school for pre-kindergarten through second grade. Newly constructed Rice Creek School became home of the third- through eighth-grade classes. The early learning school at Port Wentworth became wildly popular with families in the small community. About 530 students are enrolled. But the decision to keep the phased-out school open could cost the district about $4.5 million in state facilities entitlement funds. Officials discussed the issue Thursday at a facilities committee meeting.
“The parents tugged at our hearts so we chose to keep it open,” said board member Connie Hall. “I think we need to start hinting to those families that change may be coming. We can’t miss out on that kind of money.”
To ensure schools have enough classroom space, the state provides funding to districts when enrollment exceeds available classroom space. When Savannah–Chatham phased out the Port Wentworth campus it became ineligible to receive state entitlement funds for maintenance and upkeep.
To qualify for state facilities funding again, local officials would have to convince the state to phase Port Wentworth School back in. But that could be tricky. They’d have to convince the state that the industrial site is safe; and if phase-in was permitted the amount of available class space in the district could exceed enrollment. That would potentially leave the district ineligible for $4.5 million in entitlement funds.
The state has given the district a couple more years to decide whether they will move the early grades out or get the Port Wentworth campus phased in. Deputy Superintendent Vanessa Miller-Kaigler said she will not recommend a phase-in.
“We have enough space for them at Rice Creek or at some of the new construction projects (to be built with education special purpose local option sales tax funds),” Miller-Kaigler said.
Superintendent Thomas Lockamy said it will be a tough decision for the board.
“You’ll have a lot of disappointed parents if we relocate because it is a highly successful program,” he said. “We have to balance how we deal with state entitlement money and what is right for the children.”
In other business
In other business, the school board held a special meeting last week to select a project management firm to oversee ESPLOST III, their third round of education sales tax construction projects. The board awarded the contract to Parsons Environment & Infrastructure Group, Inc. and their local minority partner Vanguard. Parsons and Vanguard managed the ESPLOST II projects.
Before the board members voted, representatives of Cumming Construction and their local minority partner Brownstone Construction protested the decision. They argued they scored higher in the selection process and should have been offered the contract.
Lockamy said that Cumming/Brownstone were rated No. 1 for their bid because it was the lowest. But he said they were rated third for their technical ability. The company that ranked No. 1 for their technical ability earned the lowest rank for their bid, which was too high. Lockamy said Parsons/Vanguard was recommended for the job because they ranked second in both categories.
Parsons was selected in a 6-0-1 vote. Six board members voted yes and Board President Jolene Byrne abstained. Byrne said she abstained because bidding companies contacted her prior to the vote.