Bill Lewis tried to retire as COO of Capital Programs for the Charleston County School District (CCSD) back in June. His colleagues even had a party for him.
But with a $1.4 billion capital program underway that had so many moving parts, he had a few things left to finalize.
And of course, he wanted to be there to acclimate the new guy.
Now, Lewis has officially handed over the reigns to Jeff Borowy, who as Superintendant Dr. Nancy McGinley describes, is a top replacement for Lewis.
“We're absolutely fortunate and thrilled to have Jeff. Bill leaves big shoes to fill. But I'm confident he's up for the job,” she said.
Ron Cromps also joins the ranks as head of facilities and will work hand in hand with Borowy on capital maintenance projects.
McGinley said that securing a top replacement for yourself is not easy to do when you're looking for someone who has the same background as Lewis. But Borowy does, she said, bringing to the table expertise coupled with a passion for education. “He, like Bill, is someone who will see this as a mission – something far more important than making money.”
Lewis has been with the district for 14 years. Those first few years were about changing the way the district operated and the mind-set in regards to facilities, maintaining them and building them.
Then came 1997, when Charleston County voters approved a half-cent sales tax in which funding would be allocated to the school district.
Since then, $ 1.4 billion has been utilized, which in context, is comparable to building two Ravenel Bridges and two Boeing plants.
Lewis explained that the district is putting $100 million a year on average into the economy, or $8 million a month into the economy through the district's building program.
In 1997, the district started out with a deferred maintenance backlog of schools that were in bad shape to the tune of more than $6 million. “We knocked that out by doing two things; we demolished a lot of schools that were antiquated and rebuilt or renovated schools that needed to be modernized. That was a pretty big accomplishment,” Lewis said.
The sales tax referendum was not only about new projects but about putting in a funding stream for capital maintenance on schools, so local schools never get in that condition again, he explained.
Capital maintenance funding went and will go towards big ticket items such as roofs, air conditioners, bathrooms and changing high-use front doors every 10 years.
The other factor in knocking down the maintenance costs was utilizing in-district resources such as an accounts comptroller; the procurement office where items were bought in bulk to be distributed districtwide (rather than per project); utilizing the network engineering staff; and the security staff.
Outside the district, Lewis hired construction managers who provide all the efforts and procure local contractors.
He designed a plan for the district to employ a sophisticated concept of strategic sourcing into the market place, enabling them to buy higher quality essentials in bulk at a lower cost.
This allows district employees and departments to stay focused on servicing current schools and vendors in turn focus on new schools, Lewis said.
•Eight new high schools were built.
•Three high schools were renovated or expanded.
•Three underwent maintenance renovations.
(Of those, East Cooper schools included Wando High School and Wando Center for Advanced Studies.)
•Seven new middle schools were built.
•Four middle schools were renovated or expanded.
•Three underwent maintenance renovations and were refitted to become middle schools.
(Of those constructed, East Cooper schools included Cario, Moultrie and Laing, which will be complete in 2015.)
•A total of 25 new elementary schools were built.
•Fourteen were renovated or expanded.
•Twelve underwent maintenance renovations.
(Of those constructed, East Cooper schools included Belle Hall, Mount Pleasant Academy, Whitesides, Pinckney, Laurel Hill, Jennie Moore and Sullivan's Island.)
•Twenty-eight schools were demolished.
(Of those, East Cooper schools included Mount Pleasant Academy, Moultrie Middle School, Sullivan's Island Elementary School and Jennie Moore Elementary School.)
•More than 480 acres of land was acquired districtwide.
While these accomplishments are the result of many people's efforts, it's Bill Lewis that McGinley credits the most.
“He is a national treasure. He has been such a visionary. The behind-the-scenes work this man has done for the last 14 years is beyond belief. In addition to coordinating all of this $1.4 billion enterprise, he has been forward-thinking about growth predictions and projections of future needs,” she said.
“We do the advanced land purchases, that in some cases has to occur eight to 10 years ahead of where a new school would be needed. Bill is very analytical and shrewd and is someone who can form relationships,” said McGinley. “He knows the best architects in the state and the nation for school construction. He goes and visits other schools and brings back ideas.”
McGinley said the new Laing Middle School is based on a school Lewis visited in the Upstate where they have totally reconceptualized how schools are designed.
“I credit him with the transformation. When I go around the schools, I see beautiful brass plaques with the names of the school board members who served at the time they opened. And my name is on a lot of those plaques as well. But the person whose name should be on those plaques is Bill Lewis,” she said. “This is the man who had the vision then and the smarts to bring it through.”
McGinley said that Lewis is a humble leader who calls himself a “dirt kicker” or the super's “hard hat,” but the truth is, she said, he's a brilliant, strategic thinker and a visionary. “In all honesty, he cared more about the children and the community than anything else.”
Jason Sakran, district public information officer, has worked with Lewis for four years. Sakran said Lewis personifies the term “servant leadership.”
“He has been a pleasure work with, and as public sector servant worker, he is selfless sometimes. He's a tough act to follow, but if anyone closely matches his profile, it is incoming Jeff Borowy,” he said.