After seven months of deliberation, the Charleston County School Board voted for a third time Monday to delay a decision on where to build a new career training center in North Charleston.
The district has planned to build a $43.7 million North Charleston Center for Advanced Studies since November 2014, when county voters approved a ballot measure to fund several school construction projects with a new 1-percent sales tax. But controversy has dogged the proposed North Charleston center since March 2017, as some questioned the best site and its impact on other schools.
Like the existing Center for Advanced Studies beside Wando High in Mount Pleasant and a planned CAS in West Ashley, the North Charleston CAS will be a program open to students from all high schools in its area of the county. When it opens in 2020, the North Charleston CAS is planned to offer programs including health science technologies, arts and audio-visual technologies, information technology, and pre-engineering.
The district's first proposal was to build the center on the site of the Attaway-Heinsohn football stadium at North Charleston High, eventually replacing the stadium with a regional North Area stadium also funded by the new tax. That proposal met opposition from current students and longtime North Charlestonians who did not want to lose the stadium.
An alternative plan floated over the summer would have built the CAS beside Garrett Academy of Technology, an existing countywide magnet school offering career training in North Charleston's Dorchester-Waylyn neighborhood. Some students and alumni of Garrett worried that building the CAS elsewhere would render Garrett redundant and lead to its closure.
A third plan would build the CAS on practice field space at Stall High School. Jeff Borowy, the school district's chief operating officer, mentioned the option for the first time in a community meeting last week.
Under Board member Cindy Bohn Coats' proposal, the district could convert the Garrett Academy building into another use, like a neighborhood high school, a middle school serving students from the Meeting Street Schools public-private partnerships at Burns and Brentwood Elementary, or a school "for students who prefer flexible self-guided online programming."
The School Board did not settle the issue Monday. At its March 27 meeting, the board voted to delay its decision indefinitely and hold public input meetings over the summer. At a Sept. 25 meeting, the board voted to consult with a newly formed input committee of North Charleston community leaders and vote on the matter Oct. 23.
Instead of voting Monday, the board unanimously agreed to wait for the input group to meet a second time and then hold a special board meeting Nov. 2 to take a final vote. District construction officials have warned the school board that delaying a vote beyond October could jeopardize the planned August 2020 opening date.
At the input meeting last Thursday, two representatives were present from the Dorchester-Waylyn neighborhood surrounding Garrett Academy: Activist Jesse Williams, and Charleston County Councilman and City of North Charleston Project Manager Teddie Pryor. Pryor said he was concerned that building the CAS at Garrett would lead to increased traffic on residential streets.
Others at the meeting last Thursday grew frustrated after attending previous input meetings on the topic, including one woman who called them an "act of futility."
Jon Hale, co-founder of the Quality Education Project advocacy group, criticized the last-minute Stall High proposal Monday.
"This is a duplicitous proposal that undermines the democratic process and perpetuates the mistrust that the board has built with the community," Hale said.