The new downtown building for James Simons Elementary was supposed to be finished this month, but that’s not going to happen.
Construction delays again have pushed back the project’s completion date, which means students will stay at their temporary North Charleston campus until winter break. Students will return in January to the new downtown school.
Although most of the construction work will be done by next month, school Principal Quenetta White and her faculty wanted to give themselves time to set up their Montessori classrooms.
“We can’t afford to not be ready instructionally,” White said. “If teachers haven’t had the time they need to be prepared, then we lose instructional time.”
This is the second time during the past five months that district leaders have pushed back the finish date on the King Street school. They had hoped to have the building ready by the start of this school year, but they said in June that the summer’s frequent and heavy rain made that impossible. They set the new opening for October.
At the end of September, district chief operating officer Bill Lewis said officials knew that deadline couldn’t be met. The grueling construction schedule that required workers to put in seven-day weeks took its toll, and some people were put on mandatory leave because they were so exhausted, he said.
“People got burned out,” he said. “We weren’t able to keep that level up; we worked people like dogs. That’s not an excuse. It’s just an issue.”
Workers also ran into unforeseen conditions in their efforts to reinforce, save and restore the building’s historic façade.
“Every morning there was a different challenge,” Lewis said.
As soon as he realized they again would miss the target completion date, Lewis talked with the school about how they wanted to proceed.
White said her faculty put a lot of hours into getting their current building ready for families, and the hands-on materials that make up Montessori classrooms take time to set up. They’re expecting pallets of new Montessori materials once they move downtown, and it’s going to take more than a weekend to ready teachers’ instructional spaces, she said.
“They need that time to get the classrooms ready and to create an environment for children where they feel safe and comfortable,” she said.
No family has withdrawn from the school because of the delay, and she said parents have been understanding.
Charleston County School Board member Todd Garrett lives downtown and is upset the district hasn’t been able to ready the James Simons building more quickly, especially since other downtown schools were finished on time.
“Had they said initially it would be delayed until November, there would be no need for this article and it would’ve been settled,” he said. “But it ... again seems like the district can’t come through for this school.”
James Simons had been about six months behind schedule because of initial delays in choosing its Montessori focus. Officials have been trying to make up time since then.
The school board promised in 2010 that four downtown schools would be rebuilt and reopened by the start of the 2013-14 school year, and it made good on its promise with Buist Academy and Memminger Elementary. Charleston Progressive Academy also opened in a new downtown building this fall, but its media center and art and physical education classrooms still aren’t finished.
Like James Simons, those spaces were supposed to be completed by October, but they won’t be ready until the first week of December.
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.
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