Meet Dr. Stephen Hefner: Interim Superintendent

Monday afternoon, I’ll attend a reception honoring Lexington/Richland School District Five’s Interim Superintendent. I realized that many may not know Dr. Hefner or may not have met him yet so I decided to re-start my “Meet your neighbor” series again this year.

Five Facts and a Prediction
by Stephen Hefner, Interim Superintendent
February 8, 2011

I was delighted to be asked by the Lexington-Richland Five School Board to serve as interim superintendent in this wonderful school district. The response from the community has been warm and welcoming and I thank everyone for your good wishes.

As I visit schools and meet members of the community, it has become clear that there has been a great deal of misinformation communicated about the building program currently underway in the school district. I believe it is important to address that misinformation so I thought I would use this first article to address the Chapin High School renovation project. As most of you know, the project has been stopped due to a legal appeal by a community member. I have five facts to share and one prediction.

First Fact: Chapin High School needs to be expanded and renovated. It is overcrowded and out-dated. There are currently 23 temporary portables at the school accommodating as many as 500 students. There are not enough permanent classrooms, halls are overcrowded and the size of the cafeteria is inadequate, forcing students to eat lunch in the lobby area outside the cafeteria.

Second Fact: In 2008 the voters approved a $243 million referendum that included $44.9 million to renovate Chapin High School and expand the student capacity from 1,065 to 1,700 students. Any changes made to the plans after the referendum were made with an opportunity for community input at a public meeting and at six presentations before the school board. Changes were made to enhance safety. Our architects verify that the revised plan will accommodate 1,700 students; other architects and educators with years of experience in high school scheduling have also verified that the revised plan will accommodate 1,700 students.

Third Fact: The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) approved the permits and certifications needed to move forward with the project. This action came after the school district considered viable alternative sites and modified construction plans to avoid impacting the wetlands and to minimize impact to the stream. After DHEC issued its certification, a legal appeal was filed by a community member. That appeal was reviewed by DHEC and found to be without merit. The community member then took the matter to court, stopping the project.

Fourth Fact: Splitting the permit request between the athletic fields and the academic building would not have resulted in the district being able to move forward with the construction of the academic building. This was verified in the testimony of a DHEC representative during the legal appeal. After modifying the number and location of athletic fields, the issue with the permitting agencies was not the athletic fields, but rather the surrounding infrastructure to support the academic building.

Fifth Fact: Any question about whether or not the project could move forward until the legal challenge is settled can be answered in the last paragraph of a letter from the Office of School Facilities. The letter, dated January 14, 2011, clearly states that “bids could not be opened until the court case on the stream mitigation/disturbance issue is resolved.”

Prediction: Legal costs and consultant fees related to the legal appeal now total more than $342,000. I am concerned that when these costs are combined with the probable higher cost of construction, we will not be able to do all we had planned to do with referendum funds, or finish projects as originally scheduled. This includes the new elementary school, high school and career and technical education center.

In addition, I have this observation: I believe our community as a whole will be impacted economically by this issue. The quality of the education provided to our students is one of the major reasons families choose to live here. A perception that we are not providing safe environments that are conducive to learning is a message that could impact the number of residents in our area. This would raise the potential for a negative effect on home re-sale values, commercial sales and the profit margins of local merchants for years to come.

While the challenges before us are significant, I remain optimistic. I perceive that all members of our board are motivated to do what is right for our students. Thus, I am hopeful that a resolution to this challenge will come about. As Joshua J. Marine once observed, “Challenges are what makes life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.”

I encourage all community members to monitor our progress and get up-to-date, factual information about our building projects by checking our web site or email your questions to d5buildingprogram@gmail.com.