Sullivans Island school: another idea
Sometimes the best answer to a question is “none of the above.”
The difficult question that won’t go away is whether Sullivan’s Island should interrupt the Charleston County School Board’s ongoing work to build a new elementary school where the old one stood.
One answer is “Yes, interrupt the work. The planned school is too big.”
One answer is “No. We want this school, and this is the only size school the district will build.”
At this point, it seems the twain shall never meet.
But then there is “none of the above.” Some islanders have come forward to suggest putting the school on a different site that they believe would suit almost everyone.
The problem is those pesky details.
Developer Vince Graham and business owner Rusty Bennett, both Sullivan’s Islanders, started out on opposite sides of the debate. Mr. Graham was unhappy with the school district’s plan. Mr. Bennett was supportive.
Then they talked about putting the school on a town-owned lot in the business district, and the two had a meeting of the minds. They have been joined by fellow islander Chad Walldorf, who served as deputy chief of staff for Gov. Mark Sanford during his first term.
They say a school on this site, without the challenges of being on the front beach, could be designed to appeal to more people.
It would accommodate 500 students, as the school district requires.
It could alleviate concerns of those who think it imprudent to put a school on the front beach, an easy target for hurricanes.
And, they say, it would save on construction costs.
At this point, they have informed but unsubstantiated ideas about how it would work.
The property is north of Middle Street by the tennis courts.
The site, they say, is plenty big enough because the school could be two stories. Because it would be away from the beach, it would not have to be raised nine feet. It would reduce traffic going through residential neighborhoods. And the design could be more compatible with Sullivan’s Island’s than the beach-front design soon to be bid out.
But they have not done engineering site surveys. They haven’t talked to school officials. Their cost estimates are based on their own experience with building and real estate. And, as the lot backs up to the inland waterway, there could be environmental questions.
Residents of usually friendly Sullivan’s Island aren’t feeling friendly about this issue. Those on both sides have dug in and insist that they are right. It’s gone beyond analysis and become personal. Both sides have lawyers.
All members of town council support the current plan except for the mayor. They are committed to having a school on the island and are happy with the site and design. They believe there has been ample input from residents during the planning process.
Opponents, however, feel shut out of the process. They have requested a referendum to give a clear indication of whether islanders want the school to be built as the district has proposed — or not.
Town council has no plans for a referendum, and contends that it would not be legal.
Both sides feel they are in the majority. If opponents were to prevail in a referendum they hope the Charleston County School Board would revisit the school plan.
Perhaps, just perhaps, the “none of the above” plan would satisfy both sides and resolve this dispute.
At this point, the district is moving forward as planned. Superintendent Nancy McGinley says the fight isn’t the school board’s. It’s the island’s.
Certainly seems like a stalemate.
So why not look at something altogether different? All it would take is a little time and analysis.