A better, unifying option for new Sullivan’s Island Elementary

This aerial rendering shows the proposed Sullivan's Island Elementary School.

As residents of Sullivan’s Island we care deeply about the fabric of this island and its community and future. We believe that the island benefits from its public parks as well as from the presence of a school. We want Sullivan’s Island Elementary School (SIES) to be rebuilt on our island for the many benefits it brings our community and we simultaneously want to ensure the long-term vibrancy of our public parks.

We are concerned about both the tenor of the current debate and its direction. While we expect our town leaders to try to build consensus on difficult issues, we understand and recognize that sometimes the right answers are not always easy or clear-cut.

With significant generational decisions, however, we believe it is that much more important that the relevant options be fully examined with a long-term view in mind and some consensus reached.

We are weary of the name-calling and acrimony amongst the many well-intentioned island residents as they become further dug in on their positions and we fear school construction will be delayed indefinitely while this battle is fought in the courts.

For elected leaders of a community roughly the size of a high school to be engaged in serious legal battles on two important issues surely something is amiss.

There is a potential win-win scenario (previously discussed with town leaders briefly and dismissed) that we now urge town leadership to seriously and thoroughly consider. We propose that Town Council consider putting the school in the back of Stith Park on the two large, infrequently used fields on the side of the mound and then use the current SIES school site to provide a balance of public park area and private residential lots.

Advantages to this proposal include the following:

¦ The school would be west of Middle Street in the center of town, keeping related traffic in the business district and out of the more residential areas.

¦ There would be environmental, cost-saving and maintenance benefits to putting the school in Stith Park versus on the beachfront. Because of the better flood zoning for Stith Park, the school would not have to be as elevated, thereby saving significant taxpayer monies and alleviating residential concerns on scale and aesthetics.

¦ The parking required for the school at Stith Park would provide much-needed parking closer to the central business district that can be used on nights and weekends to take pressure off of surrounding neighborhoods.

¦ The current SIES site could provide significant future income to the town and taxpayers.

¦ A school at Stith Park might actually be built sooner than one at the present site once expected legal challenges strangle it in the court system.

To enhance our parks as part of this overall plan, we propose:

¦ For every acre that Stith Park contributes to the school, we would want to see a minimum of the same amount dedicated to a new park at the beachfront site. We envision a wonderful passive beachfront park with parking only for bikes and golf carts.

¦ If the town decided to monetize any part of the current school site, we would want the parks to benefit from a portion of the proceeds for amenities at the new beachfront park and improvements to the remaining amenities at Stith Park.

¦ The current fields would be relocated to the top of the mound (with steps built to access) providing a unique, extraordinary vista for athletic competition for students of the school and others alike.

The Post and Courier recently opined on this third option saying, “perhaps the ‘none of the above’ plan would satisfy both sides and resolve this dispute ... so why not look at something altogether different?”

We couldn’t agree more. We would ask our elected officials specifically and friends on all sides of this debate, including the Charleston County School Board, to please thoroughly consider this alternative with an open mind before moving forward.

Surely there would be challenges associated with this option — as with any option — but we would respectively request that we see if the challenges could be overcome in this generational decision.

We can no longer afford to eschew the responsible and open vetting process needed to address the big decisions that confront us. To those who dismiss this as “too late,” we believe it is never too late to do things right.


I’On Avenue

Sullivan’s Island

This letter was signed by an additional 14 residents of Sullivan’s Island.