The speed of North Augusta’s growth hasn’t slowed down, and a handful of local leaders talked about the current state of things in North Augusta and the surrounding two-state area, from school programs, to changes at Fort Gordon, to development and budgets.
Speaking as part of the North Augusta Chamber of Commerce’s State of Our Community virtual meeting were North Augusta Mayor Bob Pettit, Aiken County Public School District Superintendent King Laurence, Ft. Gordon Garrison Commander Col. Jim Clifford and Aiken County Council Chairman Gary Bunker.
“Let me just say if you’re looking at a city of our size with this much big construction and activity going on, it’s clear that I think we have a reason to be upbeat,” Pettit said at the end of the event, which was held via GoToMeeting.
Pettit pointed out areas of the city seeing development: Exit 5 and Walnut Village, Highland Springs near I-520, Ambiopharm at the North Augusta industrial park, Riverside Village, Exit 1 with River Falls apartments and the Hamrick Farms property and Five Notch Road, where the Rushing Waters subdivision is planned.
The current COVID-19 pandemic was a topic mentioned often throughout the event, and Pettit and Bunker each commented on the impact it is having on the budgets of the city and county.
“I think the good news is is that when we look at our revenues that we’ve received from all of our revenue streams, we’re actually very, very close to the budgeted amount, so thus far it hasn’t been a big impact and that’s essentially through April,” Pettit said. “We’re going to continue to watch that, and probably will though have a budget adjustment in July or thereabouts.”
North Augusta’s fiscal year is on a calendar year, so the city is only partway through the second quarter of the budget.
Bunker said the budget impacts for the county are still in the “qualitative as opposed to the quantitative discussion stage” due to lack of revenue numbers.
“We do expect the Capital Projects Sales Tax Collections from retailers to be down, but given the seven-year collection period, we hope the impact of one or two quarters will be relatively small,” Bunker said. “This does assume that the economy will bounce back fairly quickly.”
Laurence talked about the impacts to the school district, with meal service, online meetings, nightly book readings streamed online and rural broadband struggles.
“As is the case with everyone, we are certainly experiencing circumstances that nobody had expected, and we’ve all had to change and adapt through those different circumstances,” Laurence said.
Laurence also talked about some upcoming and ongoing school construction, which is on the table or planned for North Augusta High School, Belvedere Elementary School and Hammond Hill Elementary School.
He talked about the two new schools planned to be in the Highland Springs development, which will be located near Belvedere-Clearwater Road and Old Sudlow Lake Road.
“We should start seeing some movement on this very soon; the deed to the property has just been secured,” Laurence said.
“That was a very long process, so we’re currently in the site design process with this.”
He said the project, which will include a new elementary and middle school, will reduce crowding at Paul Knox Middle School and in several of the elementary schools in the North Augusta area.
Along with commercial and residential development, Pettit talked about some projects on the horizon in North Augusta, including the Riverside Village amphitheater, which is nearing completion, and the downtown Greeneway connector project.
The project will connect the Greeneway, a multi-mile walking trail, to downtown North Augusta, by way of Bluff Avenue.
He also mentioned public safety construction, as the city is currently in the planning stages for both fire station No. 1 and a North Augusta Department of Public Safety headquarters building.
Col. Jim Clifford, Garrison Commander at Fort Gordon, an Army installation in Augusta, talked about some of the projects going on there.
“There’s an awful lot of construction going on here across the installation that encompasses demolition, road projects, new growth, restoration and modernization projects, commercial projects to include a hotel, that are all happening pretty much simultaneously over the course of this year and the upcoming years as we go,” he said.
The first phase has already started on the Army Cyber headquarters moving to Fort Gordon and largely closed out in March, Clifford said.
The cyber campus is worth about a $1 billion from a construction perspective, he said, and the campus will include new construction, demolition of current buildings and buildings that will be completely gutted and renovated.
Another project important to North Augusta and Aiken County, Clifford said, is the Fort Gordon Gate 6 entrance. He said when the gate opens up, it will come off Gordon Highway and into the west side of the post.
“It’s a much higher speed access road and I think overall it’s going to be a good thing for our growth,” Clifford said, adding that Fort Gordon is working on both sides of the river to “champion an opportunity” to tie Gate 6 to Interstate 20 long term.
Clifford has been in his post at Fort Gordon since 2018 but will be changing roles in the area later this summer, as he has accepted a position as the city administrator of North Augusta and will start that job in August.
"We’re anxious to have him come on board and be part of our team," Pettit said about Clifford's appointment.