School Referendum Planning: A Success Story 

School Referendum Planning: A Success Story 

A Look into Richland School District Two’s Successful School Referendum Planning that led to a $470 Million Improvement Program 

In 2018, Richland School District Two in South Carolina, embarked on an ambitious journey to improve their elementary, middle, and high school facilities. This included funding school improvements, renovations, additions, and new construction. Simultaneously, the district sought to enhance athletics and arts education programs, emphasizing the importance of a well-rounded education. A bond referendum led to the call for an IDC answered by multiple firms, of which McMillan Pazdan Smith assisted. With a program of this magnitude, Will Anderson, the Chief Operations Officer of the school district, walks us through the challenges they faced in implementing such large-scale improvements in an ever-changing environment. 

Richland Northeast High School Stadium athletic facility and track are "Home of the Cavaliers". Thanks to successful school referendum planning, this facility is one of the improvements projects made by the district.

Richland Northeast High School Stadium and Track, Richland School District 2

The District’s Mission: Innovation and Progression 

Richland Two has always been a leader in innovation and change, aiming to equip students with job market skills. Their Innovation Incubator program fosters creativity by encouraging students, staff, and teachers to contribute ideas and transform them into reality. As Will Anderson states, their school board and superintendents strive to stay ahead of the curve, adapting their approach to meet the evolving needs of their community. 

Guiding Principles: A Living, Breathing Document 

When it came to formulating guiding principles for their improvement program, Richland Two took a collaborative approach. Instead of making decisions in isolation, they embarked on thorough research and engaged with end-users, including students, teachers, and parents. Safety and security emerged as the top priority, followed by creating a conducive environment for learning. By incorporating elements like biophilia, natural daylight, and calming colors, they aimed to enhance the educational experience for students and teachers. 

Funding School Improvements Was a Journey of Planning and Implementation

Implementing a $470 million improvement program to fund school improvements requires meticulous planning and engagement with various stakeholders. Richland Two began by conducting research to understand best practices and the principles to guide their efforts. They then delved into community meetings and needs assessments to gather input from parents, students, and other stakeholders. Armed with this data, they refined their facility plan to a manageable $468 million. Transparent communication with the public was a crucial part of their school referendum planning. Transparency and trust helped secure voter approval for the initiative. 

Ridge View High School Stadium, Richland School District 2

Fans and students enjoy the new Ridge View High School Stadium, Richland School District 2

Balancing Quality and Costs Amidst Challenges 

Once approved, the district faced various challenges, including rising construction costs, labor shortages, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. By prioritizing quality, strong relationships with contractors and designers, and public transparency, Richland Two delivered quality projects without increasing taxes. They maintained an adaptable approach to deal with unforeseen obstacles, always focusing on what was best for the students. 

Looking to the Future 

As the improvement program continues, Richland Two remains committed to creating spaces that foster love, warmth, and safety. The district’s three new schools and Performing Arts Center stands testament to their dedication to providing holistic educational experiences. The district is also undertaking renovation projects to ensure their facilities remain relevant and conducive to learning. 

The Richland School District 2, Performing Arts Center (a rendering) was constructed thanks to successful referendum planning.

Conceptual rendering of the new Performing Arts Center, Richland School District 2.

Richland School District Two’s $470 million improvement program exemplifies the power of successful school referendum planning. Their innovation, collaboration, and transparent communication will impact the future of education. Their journey offers insights into managing large-scale projects while staying true to guiding principles that prioritize safety, security, and quality learning environments. As Richland Two continues its mission to prepare students for the future, their dedication to building spaces that promote growth, learning, and joy serves as an inspiration to educational institutions nationwide. 

To learn more about funding school improvements, tune in to episode 16 of our podcast, IdeaXchange: The Future of K-12 Education with Will Anderson.

Need funding support for your campus improvements?

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Joe Gambill, pictured


Joe Gambill, AIA is a member of ASIS International, the nation’s leader in physical security training and assessment for law enforcement, private security, and homeland security professionals. The organization offers certifications, one of which, PSP (Physical Security Professional), held by Joseph Gambill of McMillan Pazdan Smith.


Michelle Smyth

Michelle Smyth, AIA, LEED AP is a Principal and K-12 Project Manager at McMillan Pazdan Smith. Since joining MPS, Michelle has been focused enthusiastically on projects in our K-12 practice area. She is a graduate of the Leadership Class of 2019 for the Greater Summerville / Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce and is a graduate of Leadership South Carolina Class of 2023.