Big plans for blighted area
A North Charleston trailer park sits empty and boarded up, in silent mockery of its location — Success Street.
But there’s a transformative plan for the site and it just took a big step forward.
The city has cleared the final hurdles for signing a long-planned land deal with the Charleston County School District that will put a new $28 million elementary school with services for the community where the trailer homes and other shuttered buildings now stand, on Rivers Avenue at Success Street.
The city bought the land during the past several years, spending $1.7 million to buy out the owners, and is giving the property to the school district. In exchange, the city will get the historic Chicora Elementary School building, located several blocks away, which North Charleston may use for senior housing.
The two governments are drafting the land-swap paperwork now.
“This is a major milestone,” said Bill Lewis, the school district’s chief operating officer. “It shows that the governments are working together to do something pretty innovative.”
The city and school district plan to share a new campus that will include the existing Military Magnet High School, the new Chicora school, recreation fields, parking and a new North Charleston fire station. The idea is to tie those elements together, with the schools and city sharing not only recreation fields, but the buildings, where community activities can take place after school hours.
“Therefore, you have folks who are not usually associated with the school being in the school and seeing what is going on,” said Ray Anderson, special assistant to North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey. “These are all components of trying to stimulate the neighborhood and get some things happening there.”
The fire station, staffed around the clock, will help keep an eye on the recreation complex, and the land-swap deal gives the district a site for the new Chicora school while preserving the historic school building for the city to use.
“The fire station is currently in design,” Anderson said. “We’re doing the master plan for the recreational complex as we speak.”
Lewis said the fire station could also tie into the curriculum at Military Magnet.
“The reason we’re excited about that is, Military Magnet has a public service program focused on police, EMT (emergency medical technician) and fire, so that will bring a lot of relevance to that,” said Lewis. “There are a lot of good kids who want to go into public service, and here right next to the school (will be) a firehouse with people who can serve as mentors and role models.”
Looking at the land where all this is supposed to happen, it takes some imagination to picture the planned outcome. The fire station and recreation fields will go on a tract of open land next to Military Magnet known as the “tank farm,” because that’s where the Navy used to keep tanks full of bunker fuel for ships at the nearby base.
The new Chicora school is destined for a site now covered with boarded-up buildings, and the original Chicora elementary school nearby has been closed since the end of 2011 and, like the trailer homes, sits boarded up and waiting.
The school building hasn’t seen students since they were moved to the Ron McNair campus halfway through the 2011-12 school year, as ceilings that leaked and other problems at Chicora prompted the district to speed up relocation plans.
It was a neighborhood school, where an estimated 70 percent of students walked from home.
“I think they (in the neighborhood) are looking forward to the new campus being there,” said the Rev. Bill Stanfield, director of the nonprofit organization Metanoia. “We, as a community development organization, are also thinking about how we can help further revitalize the community when the city gets the old Chicora Elementary School.”
“That school is one of the most historic buildings in North Charleston,” he said.
Building a new elementary school in the community wasn’t always the plan. The school district originally considered closing the school and reassigning the students elsewhere.
“We fought that, and were victorious eventually,” Stanfield said.
With the land-swap agreement now being drafted, the school district could move in short order to demolish the boarded-up homes and get moving on plans to open a facility there to welcome students in the fall of 2015.
“We’re just glad to see it’s coming,” said Anderson. “The main thing is that the kids will get a new school.”
Reach David Slade at 937-5552.