Angel Oak school project OK'd amid worries it won't be enough

Amanda Kerr/staff/file The Charleston County School Board has approved an expanded renovation at Angel Oak Elementary School contingent on funding to address concerns raised by parents last year.

Plans to renovate and expand a Johns Island elementary school passed the Charleston County School Board on Monday amid continued concerns from parents and teachers who worried the upgrades won't be enough to improve the aging school.

The School Board voted 8-1 to move forward with a $9.3 million renovation and master plan for an additional expansion at Angel Oak Elementary School. School Board member Chris Collins was the only vote against the proposal over concerns the board should have more thoroughly investigated other funding alternatives to construct a new building for the 38-year-old school. Funding for the renovation is tied to the district's 2010 referendum for school construction and any additional expansion of the school would be paid for through excess sales tax revenue from that referendum.

Parents began pushing the board for a new school instead of a renovation in November on the basis that the school had a host of structural and safety issues, including ongoing leaks, water damage, cockroaches and what appeared to be mold and mildew in several classrooms.

On Monday parents again renewed their concerns that a renovation would not be enough.

"Our kids are being subjected to roaches and mold and leaky roof tiles," said Stanley Heydrick, who has four children enrolled at Angel Oak. "Our kids deserve what all the other kids deserve, a new school and resources that are up to date."

"We have a wonderful school community comprised of super kids, parents and educators in spite of having one of the older buildings," said Angel Oak parent Lindsay Jackson. "We believe we deserve a building that is worthy of our school."

A new building at the school's current size would cost $17 million. A larger school based on the district's standard plans for new elementary schools would cost $24 million.

District officials have said they can't reallocate sales tax funds for a new building for Angel Oak because of the same 2010 referendum that listed improvements at the school as a renovation.

Following the vote, the Rev. Eric Mack spoke to a group of Angel Oak supporters outside the board room who were disappointed the board didn't fund a new school. Mack told the group there was no funding immediately available to pay for a new building and that waiting on a new school could take years.

"The project I'm pushing is the best right now for Angel Oak," Mack said.

Members of Angel Oak's School Improvement Council said they trusted Mack but were concerned about whether the school district would follow through on not just the renovation, but also the expansion. Several members also felt Angel Oak wasn't getting the same scope of improvements as those in Mount Pleasant, where there are several new schools under construction and several more in the works.

"Our rural schools deserve the same equity as Mount Pleasant schools," said Angel Oak teacher and council member Sassene Bridges.

Angel Oak PTA President Coty Heydrick said she's concerned about the district's plans to do some of the renovation while students will still be in school, especially since there is asbestos in the building. She's also frustrated the district has not acknowledged the current conditions of the school's building.

Heydrick said she's hopeful the scope of the renovations will address all of the parents' concerns, but she's still not convinced the district couldn't have found a way to fund a new school.

"Somehow there's got to be a way to finagle things around to pay for a new school," she said.

In other action, the board passed a list of accelerated school building projects totaling $59.2 million, including a $41 million project to design and build a new elementary school to serve the Carolina Park subdivision in Mount Pleasant; and a proposal to delay expanding Lowcountry Tech Academy to high schools in West Ashley and North Charleston while moving forward with developing plans to move the technology program from the Charleston Charter School for Math and Science in downtown Charleston to Burke High School.

The board did not take action on whether to extend the contract of a diversity consultant tied to the investigation into the Academic Magnet football team's racially charged postgame watermelon ritual. The board instead voted to send the matter back to its Audit and Finance Committee, which voted last week not to extend the consultant's contract.