Optimists learn about District Five facilities 

Dr. Akil Ross, Superintendent of Lexington/Richland School District Five, presented a now-and-then-styled presentation to the Optimist Club of St. Andrews-Irmo on May 17. Ross has served in his present position since February 2022.

Ross first offered a comprehensive assessment of the district’s current status. From 2019 to 2023 District Five has enjoyed growth in every academic measurable. Its reputation attracts families moving to the community, once those families have done their own research. For planning purposes, the district is divided into three zones: Irmo, Dutch Fork, and Chapin. The growth pattern within and between those zones reflects a population shift from Irmo and to a lesser degree Dutch Fork, and toward Chapin.

Regarding facilities, the district has undergone a facilities analysis of the condition of the almost 3.8 million square feet under its responsibility. That analysis divides the facilities into five categories, ranging from almost new and in minimal need of upgrades to the other extreme in which they are worn or damaged and in need of replacement or improvement in less than two years.

All of the schools in the category requiring the most urgent attention lie within the Irmo and Dutch fork zones. Ross described the current options as being reactive to conditions – every day, there are an average of 29 maintenance work orders generated district-wide – or beginning a sustainable initiative. Just to maintain facilities as they are today carries a $24 million annual price tag. 

Other factors to consider:

1. Four schools in the district are operating at 95 percent capacity.

2. One goal of any facilities initiative is to reduce class size from 25 to 18 students. Those projects will aim at “normalizing” class sizes throughout the district.

3. While the state’s population is increasing, its workforce is shrinking. Teacher recruitment and retention will have to be considered.

4. A planned return from the “pod” model of separating classrooms to physical walls.

In any scenario involving a shifting student population, 99 percent of high school students will remain where they are. The small portion that is affected will involve Dutch Fork-zoned students being reassigned to the Chapin zone.