Progress continuing on new Wagener-Salley High School

Sep. 27—Plans for the new Wagener-Salley High School are continuing to move forward.

During the Aiken County Board of Education meeting on Aug. 23, board members heard an update from McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture on the progress on the high school. During the last presentation, the project was over the estimated $65.89 million budget, so Donnie Love Jr. with the architecture firm discussed what was done to bring it back under budget.

“We’ve been able to reduce the square footage of the building (by about 11,000 square feet) to get it back in line with where it needed to be to match up with the budget that we had,” Love said. “…we didn’t really lose any spaces, we were just able to tighten some things up. I think that really was the big thing, just tightening up and making sure we had all the spaces we need, that we didn’t have any excess.”

Building design

School board member Dwight Smith asked what was cut to get the building size down.

“The majority of it was things we could squeeze and make them a little tighter. We didn’t really get rid of any programs or any space,” Love said. “…the only thing we did cut out completely was the culinary arts classroom. We still have a space where they can do some of those things, but the actual culinary lab we had before, which was 3,000 square feet, we cut it out completely.”

Laura Slagel with McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture said that program was cut due to the understanding that the career center offers it so students can still take it. The culinary arts program is not currently offered at the school, just a food nutrition program, according to Rasheem Neloms, principal at Wagener-Salley High School.

Board member Sandra Shealey asked if the new design was going to impact the individual classes or the agriculture area.

“The individual classrooms really weren’t impacted at all. Those were pretty much 800 square feet already. It was some of the spaces in the career and technology center that were a little bit large and we made those a little smaller,” Love said.

The two-story building will be oriented around a central courtyard where students can hang out during lunch and before and after school, with Love adding that the new school will be easier to get around.

Love said they are working on getting steel for the building so they can be ahead of any delays and avoid cost increases.

Community engagement

When working on the design of the new building, Slagel said they wanted to meet with the community to find out what was important to keep in the new school from the old school. They did this by holding a community engagement workshop with around 20 community members who were former teachers, administrators, and students. While together, the group focused on three areas that were important to them.

“The first was the history of the school and community,” Slagel said. “The second was leadership opportunities and impact. The third was local culture of school and community. We broke out into three groups and rotated around to focus on these three topics and we heard some wonderful feedback on really what makes the area unique and what we should capture in this new building.”

One item that was repeated during the session was that the area is a “community of one” and that community members have a sense of pride they want to bring to the new building. Also important for the community was to keep the history of the building, but also look toward the future.

“We heard this wonderful theme of the building as a bridge, not a monument,” Slagel said. “So we want to obviously embrace the past, have a place to memorialize it, but really use this building as an opportunity to move forward into the next generation. These were some of the words they gave us: safe, warm, inviting, innovating, state of the art.”

As for what to display in the new school, ideas given include using the logos and colors from the three merged schools, to have artifacts from the existing school, logo at the entrance of the school, the War Eagle on a pedestal in the courtyard, and more, Slagel said.

The site of the new Wagener-Salley High is approximately a mile from the current high school and is next to Busbee Elementary School and A.L. Corbett Middle School at the intersection of Anderson Driver and Seivern Road. The school is being built to hold 330 students, Love said.

“I know the community and the school is very excited about this, and I know I am too,” Shealey said. “I just appreciate everything y’all have done so far because they’ve waited so long and I know they want a top-notch facility that I know y’all are going to bring to them.”

The new Wagener-Salley High School is expected to be completed in August 2024.