Budget hawks like to remind people that children can, and have, learned how to read, write and do math in one-room schoolhouses. Taxes being used to build fancy new schools, they suggest, are unnecessary.
Indeed, if there were no alternatives, Charleston County students would attend schools that are cramped, leaky and unsound in the event of an earthquake. They did so for years.
Fortunately, Charleston County voters want something better for their children, and they voted to tax themselves an additional penny sales tax to provide it.
That means on Wednesday when school begins in the district, hundreds of children will find their classrooms in buildings designed specifically for their needs — with support for the latest technology, places to exercise and room for art classes, libraries and cafeterias.
Superintendent Nancy McGinley says that with new buildings come additional students, and in District 20 downtown, which loses a lot of students to private schools and out-of-zone schools, that will be especially welcome.
The students and faculty are sure to find the new buildings more conducive to learning and teaching.
Some students have had to attend swing schools while their neighborhood schools were being torn down and rebuilt. And some parents were infuriated by the district’s temporary solutions to that problem. Many Buist Academy parents, for example, didn’t want their children to leave the peninsula for classes. Some were willing for their children to continue attending classes at Buist even though it was not seismically sound.
Surely they will be pleased when they return to a handsome facility with 21,000 square feet of space original to the 1921 building (seismically reinforced) and 68,000 square feet of new space that district leaders believe will be a complement to the soon-to-be-reconstructed Gaillard Auditorium across the street.
Charleston Progressive Academy nearby on Meeting Street will invite students into a school that also combines old and new. The historical portion of the campus, formerly named Courtenay Middle School, has been preserved and the interior renovated completely. New construction includes a kitchen/cafeteria, multi-purpose room and media center.
Also in District 20, Memminger Elementary has been completely rebuilt. And the school board has established an International Baccalaureate program at the school. The adjacent Memminger Auditorium, site of many cultural events, was fully renovated several years ago.
James Simons Elementary students will have to wait an additional nine weeks before moving into the new building on King and Moultrie streets. The wait is a small price to pay for a building, and program, that reflects what the community wanted. It took additional time to get community input, and it has been complicated to preserve part of the previous building’s facade.
West of the Ashley, Springfield Elementary’s Montessori program will also begin the school year in a new building after students spent last year in mobile classrooms.
Charleston County voters were wise to vote for a tax to enable the school district to upgrade and replace aging, inadequate and seismically unsafe buildings.
The more obstacles that are removed, and the more incentives that are provided, the more we can expect from our public schools.