Sullivan’s Island Town Council has voted unanimously to seek a circuit judge’s opinion on how to proceed with a petition from islanders who oppose the size of a new elementary school.
“We don’t know what to do with the petition in the form that it is in,” Council member Jerry Kaynard said.
The petition, signed by more than 200 residents, asks for two things that are impossible, he said. The first is for the island Design Review Board to evaluate plans for the new school. That is not an option because there are no provisions in the zoning code for schools.
The second is to limit the new school to the existing school’s current 30,000-square-foot “footprint.” The Charleston County School District has told the council that will not happen, he said.
The town would be wasting public money on a referendum on those issues, he said.
Council voted Tuesday night to put the petition issue before a judge after it received legal opinions from the town attorney and another lawyer, Kaynard said.
He said the council could just reject the request for a referendum. It has already signed a 75-year land lease agreement with the School District for a new school that is more than twice the size of the old one. But in the interest of fairness and clarity, the council decided to let both sides state their case in court.
“Let a judge decide whether a referendum should be held and what to do with the results,” he said.
Islanders for a Smaller Sullivan’s Island Elementary School said a certified petition with 261 signatures, more than the law requires for a referendum, was presented to council Oct. 18 before it ratified a new lease with the school district for property where the larger school will be built.
The opposition group said council is spending taxpayer money to deny island residents a referendum to which they are legally entitled.
The new school would be 74,000 square feet, elevated 11 feet and have a roof that will rise 50 feet above the sand dunes. Opponents support an elementary school but one of a size, scale and design that works well on the island.
The group uses the analogy that the school as presently designed is like accepting a hospital tower on the island to get a doctor’s office.
Barbara Spell, an opposition spokeswoman, said only the island lighthouse will be more visible than the new school. She said spending on the school should be halted until the referendum issue is resolved.
“Nothing seems to really stop them moving forward. That’s what’s really concerning,” she said.
The petition advocates more study of the project’s water and sewer, stormwater drainage, traffic and parking. It said the school is too large for a historic and environmentally sensitive residential area.
As currently designed, the $26.4 million school is double the size of the old building, which was closed for safety reasons.
The 300-student elementary school, temporarily located in Mount Pleasant, would grow to about 500 students. About 85 kids from the island attend Sullivan’s Island Elementary. Other students come from Isle of Palms and Mount Pleasant.
Islanders in favor of the school said the school district has said if a 500-student school is not allowed, the school cannot be built. A district spokesman could not be reached for comment Wednesday.