Florence School District 1 discusses options for new Williams Middle School

FLORENCE, SC (WBTW) – The Florence School District One facilities committee invited community members to an open forum Thursday night to discuss plans for the new Williams Middle School.

The auditorium was filled with parents who wanted their questions answered.

“My concerns were basically location, transportation for our students who are currently walking to school,” said Williams Middle School parent Fanika George-Steele.

George-Steele said her daughter attends Williams Middle School and that her two younger children will be affected by the new middle school by the time it’s built.

“With traffic outside Wilson, are they going to put up more lights?” she questioned. “Have multiple crossing guards? In the mornings it can be very hectic driving here with teenagers in addition to adults.”

Superintendent Dr. Randy Bridges said that there isn’t a sense of urgency for the new Williams Middle School to be built because Southside Middle School is first in line to be built and the district had just cleared that school’s site.

“We’re starting a conversation tonight and it could be three to five years before we’re actually in a new school,” he said about Williams Middle.

Dr. Bridges said Williams Middle is expected to be completed in 2022 and if the middle school stays on its current site, the district would need to relocate Williams Middle School students to another building which raised more concerns for parents.

“We do know that we can’t build a new Williams on the current site and have the school operational so it would have to be torn down and the kids would have to be assigned somewhere else,” said Dr. Bridges.

George-Steele said she appreciates the idea of expanding to more land, but wants the district to look at both the pros and cons of making the children move.

“Where they currently are now, I feel like the school was cheated since the beginning because of the acres,” she said. “Where other schools in different communities are given bigger acres of land.”

Parents also asked what will happen to the old school building if the district decided to move next to Wilson High School. Dr. Bridges said the district is open to any suggestions from the community for the use of the old building.

George-Steele said she felt like she wasn’t getting specific answers at the forum.

“As a parent, I would like to see Dr. Bridges finally make a decision instead of circumventing every question that someone asks,” she said. “He’s never given an answer in these meetings.”

Dr. Bridges said he thought the forum went well and is always open to listening to what the community has to say.

Architects and designers working with the school board were at the meeting and discussed the different options.

The first option was based on building a new Williams Middle School on the current 26-acre, 80,000 square foot property. The option was to put a 158,000 square foot school on the land which is double the size of the current school on that site. This plan includes:

  • A one level, 159,000 square foot building, which is the same as Moore Middle School.
  • The school would be built for 1,200 students
  • Two drop off/pick-up lines for parents with a separate bus loop
  • Additional parking for teachers, students, and parents
  • Athletic complex with 800 seats
  • Drainage issues with the existing site, therefore three to four retention ponds would be needed
  • District would look at underground retention, which can be more expensive because there’s isn’t a lot of land available on this site
  • State Fire Marshals’ office and SCDOT require an additional lane for emergency vehicles. This requirement would be difficult for this site because of size.

The second option was also based on the new Williams Middle School on the current property, but would be a two-story design and would include:

  • 120,000 square feet
  • Classrooms on second floor
  • School will be faced off of Vista Drive, rather than the current front-facing school
  • Two drop off/pick-up areas with a separate bus loop drive
  • Areas for retention would be needed
  • Athletic stadium would be closer to parking lot than it would the school.
  • The district might run out of space for athletic complexes as the years go by.

The third option was to build the new Williams Middle School next to Wilson High School on land that the district already owns.

  • 46 acres of land to build on
  • 158,000 square feet on one level
  • There are retention areas and, since it’s a larger area, not as much retention is needed
  • Two drop off/pick-up areas with a separate bus loop
  • There is space for an emergency vehicle lane on this site
  • Opportunity to create one, large athletic complex that can be shared between Williams Middle and Wilson High School students
  • Construction on 301 could help traffic leading into the school, a stop light could possibly be added to help with the flow of traffic
  • There would be space to grow the school as time passes