By Al Dozier

The District 5 School Board Monday approved an early site construction package contract totaling $3,656,800 for a new elementary school on Amick’s Ferry Road in Chapin.

The site work is a major first step in the construction of the new, two-story school, expected to provide classroom space for 650 students. Final cost for the project is estimated to be $24 million. The school is scheduled to open in 2021.

The board authorized the administration to enter into contracts with the district’s CM at-Risk Contractor for the site work.

The contract was approved by a 6 to 1 vote, with board member Ken Loveless voting against the project. Loveless has repeatedly raised questions about the cost of the complete project, contending the average cost for such a school is almost $5 million cheaper.

But other board members voiced support for the contract team after a presentation on the project by Quackenbush Architects, a company that has overseen many of the District 5 construction projects in the past.

The board was advised that the work will be undertaken in a cost-saving manner with hopes of being “under-budget” in the long run.

The choice of the site has brought a lot of criticism from Chapin residents who say the busy Amick’s Ferry Road location is unsafe

But district officials say measures will be taken to make sure the site is safer.

The site will include a “car loop” for students to enter the school, and a special parking area for buses. Plans also call for safe entry and exit methods utilizing road improvements.

In other action the board received a presentation on the district’s “Ident-A-Kid” project, which is designed to provide more security at the district’s schools through more advanced identification procedures when students and other visitors enter the school buildings.

The new system will provide for on-screen signatures and other scanning methods to make proper identification of students and visitors. New automated processes will be in place for early release notes and tardy slips.

The board also held a discussion on proposed revisions to board policies on the use of school facilities. The new policy will update rules on who can use school facilities, and guidelines on how they are used.

During the public participation period, the board was advised that additional seats are needed in the Chapin stadium for special events. At a recent Midlands event involving several bands, many people were unable to find seating spaces.

During the special recognition period, board member Michael Cates was recognized for reaching Level 5 in the state’s School Boardmanship Institute educational program for school board members throughout the state. Nikki Gardner and Ken Loveless were recognized for reaching Level 2.