Charleston County school leaders were trying to decide whether to move Chicora School of Communications to a temporary site last month. And then it rained.
That wouldn't be a problem for most schools, but the drainage and leaking are inside this North Charleston building. Water backed up in its basement hallway and ceilings leaked, forcing three classrooms to be moved and triggering a domino of other adjustments.
Principal Camille Hendrix knew then they couldn't wait until the end of the school year to move, and the school board agreed. It gave the go-ahead this week to spend up to $700,000 to ready the Ron McNair campus on Spruill Avenue for Chicora to move in during winter break.
"For the health and safety of children, it was a wise decision," she said.
Plans already are in the works for Chicora to have a new $28 million building next door to Military Magnet Academy, but that won't be finished until the summer of 2014. Officials intended for Chicora to stay at its current site until then, but the ongoing problems necessitated the mid-year move.
"There's definitely a sense of urgency on the staff's part," said Troy Williams, the district's executive director of operations, planning and systems improvement.
Teachers are packing items they won't need until January, and officials are working through the logistics of bus transportation. Hendrix estimated up to 70 percent of its students walk to the school on Success Street; they will have to ride a bus.
April Norman, a parent of two students and PTO president, said transportation has been parents' main concern, but the school is working on that. She said her children were excited about the move, and she thought it a good decision.
"The kids probably need a new atmosphere," she said. "They'll have more room and more space -- things they need."
First-grade teacher Shantia Wilder said the school likely doesn't employ a teacher who hasn't been affected by the building's deficiencies. Her room has leaked when it rained, so she moved whatever she needed to and kept teaching, she said.
"It's being done in the best interest of the children," she said. "I don't think it's going to be much of a disruption because we're still bell-to-bell teaching."
The Rev. Bill Stanfield is the chief executive officer of Metanoia, a faith-based community development corporation. He hosts an after-school program for 65 current and former Chicora students, and he said he's working with the school to figure out transportation.
He has a firsthand understanding of the building's problems. He walked in one day last summer to find large pieces of the auditorium ceiling on the ground. Water damage caused it to fall, he said.
"What's interesting to me is that the school district didn't move them sooner, because these issues have been going on for a long time," Stanfield said.
He's seen efforts by some school board members to change course on planned construction, so he's concerned about Chicora's new building getting built. He also wants to see the existing building put to good use in the future, he said.
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