New North Charleston schools closer to reality

Chicora Elementary School master teacher Keturia Grant works with first grader Simya Stanley (right), as students (l to r) Taliek Rogers, Jaquan Parks and Kamauri Campbell work on their reading skills. In the background, master teacher Jennifer Singleton works with third graders at her table. The two are part of four master teachers that teach at the same time in one classroom.

Principal Brian Agnew is excited to be just months away from construction starting on a new building for Chicora School of Communications.

"It's a long time coming," he said.

The Charleston County School Board recently gave the school district the OK to enter into contracts to build new buildings for both Chicora and North Charleston Creative Arts Elementary. The new structures, which were approved in 2010 as part of the district's building program, will be funded through the 1 percent sales tax voters approved in 2010.

Assuming the bids are at or below what the district has budgeted, contracts for construction could be issued within a month to six weeks, said Bill Lewis, the district's chief operating officer of capital programs.

Construction costs for Chicora are budgeted at $20.7 million. North Charleston Creative Arts is budgeted at $18 million. The total budgets for the schools, including items such as furniture, computer equipment and design costs, are $26.7 million for Chicora and $25.8 million for North Charleston Creative Arts.


The new Chicora Elementary will be 74,000 square feet. The new North Charleston Creative Arts building will be 84,000 square feet. Both schools will have capacity for 500 students. Chicora is scheduled to open in time for the start of the 2015-16 school year. North Charleston Creative Arts' building is scheduled to open in January 2016.

The new Chicora building will be located next to Military Magnet Academy on Carner Avenue. The district acquired the land for the school in a land transfer with the city of North Charleston. Earlier this year crews began site work for the new school and completed demolition of boarded-up buildings.

"That's pretty exciting," Lewis said of progress at the school site. "It's a tremendous redevelopment."

The building for North Charleston Creative Arts will be built behind the school's current location on the Berry campus on Saranac Street. Some portable classrooms were removed from the campus this year to make room for early site work.

Construction of a new elementary school in the Chicora neighborhood is considered a big victory. The elementary school moved to the Ben Tillman/Ronald E. McNair campus on Spruill Avenue outside the neighborhood in late 2011 after school officials decided the school's long-time location was no longer adequate for students. Parents have complained the old building was periodically plagued by mold, floods and rodents.

"I just think the community deserves a new building," Agnew said.

The new school will provide more space for students, and feature two computer labs and a new broadcast room. The technology upgrades are key for the school, which functions as a partial magnet focusing on improved communication skills through different genres and media. The school will also have a dedicated community room for uses such as parenting and GED classes.

Agnew has made it a priority to keep parents up-to-date on the status of the new school. A post on the school's Facebook page was the first announcement of the latest progress.

"They're going to be delighted to hear it's underway," Agnew said.

The prospect of a new school building is also starting to feel tangible at North Charleston Creative Arts.

"They've begun to dig," said Principal Eric Hansen. "It's great to see the progress."

North Charleston Creative Arts opened as a new school in the 2011-12 school year with kindergarten and first grade. The school serves grades K-3 and will expand to the fourth grade next school year. The new school building is scheduled to open in the middle of the 2015-16 school year just as the school will add the fifth grade.

The new building will offer more space for the creative arts curriculum and provide specific space for classes like dance, drama, fine arts and a violin program.

"To know that it's being created for that specific vision is awesome," Hansen said.

North Charleston Creative Arts parents and teachers are also excited.

Second-grade teacher Zoan Stokes said the old Berry building the school is using is outdated and doesn't really support an arts-infused elementary curriculum. Simple things like having more space and sinks in each classroom will make it easier to do arts activities. The new school will also have a dedicated auditorium for performances instead of a portable stage in the cafeteria, which is what students now use.

"It's exciting," Stokes said.

Most important is what the new building means for the students.

"It's a great opportunity for the students to see that they're thought about," said Hollie Ancrum, vice president of the North Charleston Creative Arts PTA and a parent of two children at the school. "When they see other, newer schools and wonder why my school doesn't look like that, now they can enjoy a new school that's state-of-the art."

Reach Amanda Kerr at 937-5546 or at