School leaders in Columbus County are looking to the future, and they're concerned about what they see: limited funds to maintain aging schools, some with shrinking enrollments.
The county school district is considering consolidating schools to cut energy, personnel and transportation costs.
"We've, I say, ‘band-aided,' but now it's time to actually just move forward and try to replace some of these buildings," said Alan Faulk, superintendent of Columbus County schools.
Leaders are studying various scenarios, including consolidating schools in Hallsboro and Acme-Delco to create a larger school in the eastern part of the county, as well as merging schools in Cerro Gordo, Evergreen and Chadbourn. They are also considering combining Tabor City Elementary and Tabor City Middle schools. Another scenario calls for merging schools in Guideway, Old Dock and Nakina.
But none of the scenarios will likely become reality any time soon, in part, because the district doesn't have the money.
Funding could come from bonds or sales-taxes, Faulk said. Another possibility would be leasing new schools from a private company.
Although Evergreen Elementary School will remain open for the foreseeable future, even the idea of closing the campus leads some local residents to fear what their community would look like without its school.
"Dead," said Betty Simmons as she sat on a bench outside Evergreen's only gas station. "It will be a ghost town."
"If they close the school, they might as well close the town down," said Charles Wheeler, who shared the bench with Simmons.
The superintendent says he understands the strong connection communities have with their schools.
"Everyone likes to have their neighborhood schools, and our schools have been here for a long time, but unfortunately, the demographics have changed and the numbers are not there sometimes to support the schools," Faulk said.
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