SULLIVAN'S ISLAND -- A persistent undercurrent to oppose a new, much bigger elementary school is fueling a petition to reconsider the project.
The Town Council voted 6-1 in the fall to lease land for the school to the Charleston County School District, with Mayor Carl Smith the lone dissenter.
More than 200 Sullivan's residents have signed a petition calling for an island vote on the school, said resident Barbara Spell.
Mayor Pro Tem Mike Perkis said the town is seeking a judge's ruling on Spell's petition and the issues it raises.
"We have asked the courts whether the referendum is valid," he said.
Spell wants the council to reconsider its vote in favor of the school.
The petition advocates more study of the project's water and sewer, stormwater drainage, traffic and parking. The document states the school is too large for a historic and environmentally sensitive residential area.
"It's as big as the (aircraft carrier) Yorktown," Spell said.
Smith refused to sign a land lease agreement with the school district for the $26.4 million school, which he opposes because of its size.
"It's a very tough decision. It bothers me a great deal," he said.
Instead, Perkis put his signature on the lease agreement.
"I executed it as our attorney told us to do," he said.
Smith said most islanders are fine with building a new school, but many are concerned that the building will be out of character with the island. As currently designed, the 74,000-square-foot school is double the size of the old building, which was closed for safety reasons.
Spell said she has met the referendum requirement of having the signatures of at least 20 percent of island registered voters. The Charleston County Board of Elections and Voter Registration has certified the signatures, she said.
There was not enough public input on the school project, she said.
"The larger Sullivan's Island community was really not included in this. A lot of people are very upset," Spell said. "We could revoke this lease if we had a referendum."
Perkis said there are a number of legal questions surrounding a referendum. For instance, if a vote on the school were held, would the results be binding upon the council? And what should the language of the referendum question be?
About 85 kids from the island attend Sullivan's Island Elementary, which has been relocated temporarily to Mount Pleasant. Other students come from Isle of Palms and Mount Pleasant. The old school had more than 300 students, while the new school would have at least 500 kids.
Loren Ziff, who has two kids at the school, said the Charleston County School Board ultimately controls the size of the building. The island risks losing its school if it demands a smaller building, he said.
"It's truly 500 students or zero," he said.
Ziff said he thinks some people didn't really understand Spell's petition when they signed it. Proponents of the new school deal represent the majority of island residents, he said.
"We've got more than enough support to make this happen," he said.
By the numbers
The planned Sullivan's Island Elementary School:--$26.4 million--500 students--74,000 square feet--Two stories with rooftop units
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