SULLIVAN’S ISLAND — Charleston County School Superintendent Nancy McGinley summed up the prevailing sentiment at Monday’s groundbreaking for the new Sullivan’s Island Elementary School:

“Nothing worthwhile ever comes easily.”

The crowd of about 50 parents, school officials and island residents cheered in reply, and their excitement for this long-awaited day remained palpable throughout the chilly morning ceremony.

Many talked about the long and difficult process preceding the day’s celebration, and McGinley went as far as to quote song lyrics from Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” saying it reminded her of parents, such as Loren Ziff, who stood their ground.

“This was a battle, and we fought it because it was the right thing,” said Ziff, who was chair of the school’s rebuilding committee.

The rebuilding of the school has been a controversial issue that has consumed the community. Some argue the proposed size and design of the new building isn’t appropriate for the small island community.

The new school is slated to be 74,000 square feet, twice the size of the old one.

Some of those supporting a smaller school filed a lawsuit against the town in October, and its outcome could have ramifications for the school’s design.

That lawsuit still is pending in the Charleston County Court of Common Pleas, and Rutledge Young III, attorney for the three plaintiffs, declined comment Monday because the case still was open.

Bill Lewis, the district’s chief operating officer, said that action is against the town not the district, and construction on the new building will continue moving forward.

Sullivan’s Island Elementary was high on the priority list for rebuilding because of its seismic deficiencies, but the debate surrounding the $26.5 million project has delayed its completion by about a year. The new school is slated to open in the fall of 2014.

Although Monday was the official groundbreaking, construction has been happening for months.

The former school has been demolished, and work on the new foundation is nearly finished. Lewis expected the board to vote this spring on a construction contract for the building.

David Richardson was among those who came out to watch the groundbreaking. He was among the first group of students to move into the school’s previous building when it opened in 1956. He has fond memories of growing up on the island and walking to school, and he said he wants to see future generations have that same opportunity.

“This island needs a school,” he said.

A handful of Sullivan’s Island Elementary students participated in the ceremony. Fifth-grader River Abedon said the new school will give everyone more space, and he’s excited for it to open.

“It’ll be better than the Whitesides building, and the building (we were in) before it,” he said.

Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or 937-5546.