Growing Pee Dee charter school awarded federal grant — but might not get money due to skyrocketing construction costs

Pee Dee

An aerial view of the Pee Dee Math, Science and Technology Academy. (Source: Pee Dee Math, Science and Technology Academy)

BISHOPVILLE, S.C. (WBTW) – A growing Pee Dee public charter school has been awarded a federal grant to help it add a new facility to its campus – but it might not be able to use the money.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will provide about $2.75 million in loans and a $100,000 grant for the Pee Dee Math, Science and Technology Academy to create a 11,000 sq. ft. building on its campus. When finished, the facility would include a library, a technology room and an arts room. 

The grant is a part of the Community Facilities Loan and Grant Program.

But as soon as the school secured an answer to one problem, another has appeared. 

“COVID hit, and now the budget has actually doubled,” said Keith Bailey, the school’s executive director.

Bailey said that skyrocketing construction and material costs have now set the project at $4 to $5 million. He said the school cannot use the federal money unless it either finds more funds or downsizes the project. Cutting back the scope, Bailey said, wouldn’t be beneficial at this point. 

The academy is one of a few rural schools in the Pee Dee region. After starting with kindergarten through second grade in 2013, it has expanded by a grade level each year – even making the rare step to include high school. Now, it has about 200 students, with a class for each grade. 

The school is entirely housed in satellite classrooms, and uses a local church’s auditorium to host big events.

“We are out of space,” Bailey said. “We are literally out of space here on the campus.”

The school will have its first graduating senior class next year.

But that growth has meant that they are “building the plane and flying it at the same time,” Bailey said. 

“It has been a rewarding opportunity, but definitely some challenges,” Bailey said. 

The school has worked with the USDA since 2019 to research ways to find the funds to expand. Because the school is now established, Bailey said it now has the ability to target a loan. Still, it’s been a slow process.

He hopes to break ground next summer. Bailey said the school is currently rewriting requests to ask for additional funds for the project.

Securing the money, he said, would show the area that the school is here to stay, prove that students are worth the investment and create a space for learning to thrive.

“It will mean a lot,” Bailey said, adding that he was hoping the building would be available for the upcoming graduates.

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