Orange Grove Elementary Charter School teacher Jane Fralix knows the stress involved in finding the right middle school for her children.
With one daughter in high school and another in middle school, Fralix hopes to avoid going through it a third time with her son, Preston, a fourth-grader.
Thanks to a decision by the Charleston County School Board, she may be able to do just that.
"We can continue the path of excellence that we have grown to know at Orange Grove," Fralix said. "We won't have to play that game to wait for the (magnet school) lottery to turn in our favor. We will sleep well in the knowledge that there is a perfect choice for him and for so many others like him."
Preston and his classmates will be able to continue their education at Orange Grove as it expands to include sixth grade in 2015-16.
After more than an hour of discussion, the board voted 7-1 on Monday to give Orange Grove preliminary approval to move into the former Oakland Elementary School building. Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats was the dissenting vote.
The board voted late last year to allow the school to expand to middle school grades, increasing enrollment by 360. In time, the 800-student school will grow to about 1,150 students in prekindergarten to eighth grade, but there is not enough space to expand its footprint at its current West Ashley location.The Oakland building, used by the district as swing space while other schools undergo renovations, is currently home to St. Andrew's School of Math and Science, which plans to vacate in January.
"We wouldn't have been able to open (in two years) unless we were able to find a building," said Principal John Clendaniel, who brought to the school board meeting a standing-room-only crowd of about 200 Orange Grove parents. "It's a win-win opportunity and most importantly, it's a win for our children."
The proposal will benefit the district financially because the school will use the space as-is, assuming the cost of utilities and paying for any repairs or improvements, Clendaniel said. The school will need approval from the state Department of Education Office of School Facilities to operate a middle school in a space designed as an elementary.
Orange Grove plans to stay at Oakland only until it can find a suitable permanent location, which will be within five years, he said. Plans are to retrofit an existing building or build a new middle school campus.
Some elected officials and community leaders had concerns several years ago when the district decided to build a new school behind the original Oakland Elementary and turn the original school into swing space, Superintendent Nancy McGinley said. Neighbors wanted the old school torn down.
"The community has been incredible," said Bill Lewis, the district's chief operating officer. "The prudent thing to do with the community is re-engage and talk about how they can be a partner."
Clendaniel said officials plan to do that.
The school will open with 120 sixth-grade students and expand by one grade each year, topping out at 360 students. St. Andrew's currently has about 750 students at the location who will move back to their former location in 2015. Additionally, trailers will be removed, creating green space that will be open for use by the community, he said.
"The impact for the community is going to be very minor," he said.
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.
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