Plans to turn the former Whitesides Elementary School in Mount Pleasant into a magnet school have been ditched for a new proposal to allow East Cooper Montessori Charter School to take over the building.

The Charleston County School Board voted last week to allow the school district to move forward with entering into a memorandum of understanding with East Cooper Montessori to take over the old Whitesides building on Rifle Range Road.

East Cooper Montessori has been working to locate in either the former Whitesides or Laing Middle campuses for two years. A new Whitesides Elementary opened in 2010 and a new building for Laing is currently under construction. The charter school has made several pitches to the district and school board to use one of the buildings as a way to expand the Montessori curriculum in the district.

Sullivan's Island Elementary had been using the old Whitesides campus while its new building was under construction, but is moving to its new school in the fall.

The school board had previously planned to create a magnet school in the building starting in 2015 as a way to help deal with a rapidly growing elementary school population in Mount Pleasant. But after parents in Mount Pleasant said they didn't need a magnet school, the board began to rethink that plan.

"Their problem is not lack of academic opportunity or performance, their problem is ... growth in the north area of town," said school board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats. The solution, Coats said, is to focus on building a new elementary school in the Carolina Park area where the growth is happening.

With the school board split on how to expand Montessori in the district, Coats said leasing the building to East Cooper Montessori gives the school room to grow and offers more Montessori classes in the district.

East Cooper Montessori, which opened in 2003, has around 250 students in grades one through eight. The school's principal, Jody Swanigan, said there is a waiting list of around 150 students. The old Whitesides building will allow the charter school to enroll up to 450 students.

The school is currently located in the I'On development in a building with no cafeteria, library or playground, Swanigan said. The Whitesides building will give the school access to all of those things, she said.

"It's going to be amazing," Swanigan said.

East Cooper Montessori plans to move 60 seventh- and eight-grade students to the Whitesides building in the fall. The rest of the students would move to their new campus in 2015. Swanigan said the building will need some renovations and the charter school is working out the details with the school district on who will pay for the improvements.

The school board is tentatively scheduled to review a memorandum of understanding with East Cooper Montessori at its meeting on Monday.

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