SULLIVAN’S ISLAND — After Monday night’s Charleston County School Board vote, it appears the coast is clear to build a new elementary school on the island that would be twice the size of the old one.
“I know of no legal impediment to our proceeding with construction,” said Town Councilman Jerry Kaynard.
Opponents who argue that a referendum on the school size is in order indicated Wednesday that the issue is not dead.
“If the town refuses to hold the referendum, petitioners can then sue to have the town perform its legal duty,” spokeswoman Barbara Spell said in a press release.
Spell would not confirm that Islanders for a Smaller Elementary School will sue the town for a referendum but did not rule it out.
“The law allows us to do that,” she said.
Spell said in an interview that a certified petition with the signatures of more than 200 islanders calling for a referendum was presented to Town Council before it ratified the island agreement for a new lease for land where the school is located. The petitioners met the requirement of the law to have a referendum on the school size, she said.
Both council and the Charleston County School District Board of Trustees have signed off on the project despite demands for the referendum.
Kaynard said the design phase of the school is coming to an end after numerous public meetings on the issue of how the 70,000-square-foot building will look and fit into the neighborhood.
Kaynard said he expects demolition of the old school to start in the next couple of weeks.
Opponents argue that the new school as designed is out of character with the rest of the island.
On Monday night, the school board decided in a 6-3 vote that a referendum was unnecessary. But opponents remained undeterred.
“The vote by the school board does not change the fact that Sullivan’s Island voters are entitled to a referendum on the size of the school,” Spell said in her press release.
Kaynard said council wanted a judge to decide the referendum issue, but in preparing legal papers for that to happen, the town could not find a person who would agree to represent the Islanders for a Smaller Elementary School in court.
Instead, four or five people came forward, but that was unworkable, he said.
“Nobody would agree to stand up and take responsibility for the group. No one person would speak for the group,” he said.
For that reason, council decided against the legal action, he said.
“The idea that every community can decide on the size of a school is not workable,” he said.
Even if a referendum were held, Kaynard questioned its value. The decision on school size belongs to the school board, which has said three times it cannot build the smaller school, he said.
“It’s sort of like voting for making the Ravenel Bridge two lanes,” he said.