BY MIKE PERKIS and MADELEINE McGEE
“So why not look at something altogether different?”
That’s the question posed in last Sunday’s Post and Courier’s editorial entitled “Sullivan’s Island school: another idea.” Your editors suggest considering the idea of relocating the new Sullivan’s Island Elementary School (SIES) to the playing fields in Stith Park, the Town’s one real park, built almost exclusively through private contributions.
Why didn’t the town and the school district think of this “idea”?
Well, in fact, we did.
We understand this idea was presented to you as “new” and one that would end what you see to be a “stalemate.” We appreciate your intentions. However, we regret those presenting this “idea” didn’t indicate this option moved past “a new idea” two years ago and was fully considered and eliminated.
As early as 2009/2010, at the beginning of the rebuilding process Town Council unanimously agreed that removing green space from Stith Park was not in the best interest of our community.
Importantly, moving the school to the playing fields did not address the objections publicly expressed by those opposing the school and created many new issues making it a poor choice.
Here are a few of the reasons this site was not chosen.
1) This park and its playing fields are a cherished island resource used by many islanders and visitors.
2) Changing the location did not address the 500-student-enrollment and design-compatibility objections publicly expressed by those opposing the rebuilding.
3) The park site and a two-story building would be highly visible from the Ben Sawyer causeway.
4) Ingress and egress would require new roads that would take traffic through a residential neighborhood that already bears the brunt of commercial district traffic.
5) It would increase parking and traffic problems in our commercial district.
6) The school is being built 9 feet above grade so the area beneath can be used for additional play area, which warrants the additional height and would not change at the park site.
7) The park site is no “better” than the current site, as it is closer to the water on the marsh side than the current site is to the ocean. When Hugo hit, the surge crossed the entire island.
8) The park site is adjacent to the town’s sewer treatment plant. Funds would have to be allocated to enhance the chlorine treatment systems.
9) The current site is more secluded and less visible, being surrounded by trees and the historic batteries and a growing maritime forest on the beach side.
Between 2009 and 2010, three island locations were reviewed for the rebuilding of Sullivan’s Island Elementary school: 1) the current building site located behind Battery Gadsden and Thompson; 2) Town-owned land near Sunrise Presbyterian Church and 3) Stith Park. Presentations about these sites were made to a packed house. We don’t believe the gentlemen mentioned in your editorial attended that meeting, or any of a series of public design meetings held earlier this year.
Our town values and policies aim to promote full-time residency, especially young families with children, and to maintain a family-friendly atmosphere. That’s why we, as leaders, believe the school is just as important to our Island’s future, as it was to our past. We also believe in preserving green space and providing places for our children, residents and visitors to play and enjoy a healthy, active island lifestyle.
These two core values do not match with taking Stith Park fields for a school, or encroaching upon the now protected maritime forest in front of the school site in order to develop it for housing as others have suggested.
The island’s most active local organizations, the Park Foundation and Islanders for Conservation, strongly believe in protecting the park, even after considering the “benefits of this new idea” when presented by its proponents.
The new school is fully designed and engineered, and all necessary permits have been issued. As we write this letter, after four years of discussion (40-plus public meetings; months of design collaboration between our highly respected Design Review Board co-chairs, Steve Herlong and Pat Ilderton, and the CCSD architect; valuable input from the Historic Charleston Foundation; and three public, well-attended design workshops), the new school is out for bid.
In today’s world, perhaps not all elected officials see a public school as a community asset worthy of the best land a town has to offer.
But on Sullivan’s Island, we believe our children and all the children who attend Sullivan’s Island Elementary School deserve the best land. We will continue put children first.
We welcome the many young families who, believing in quality public education and family-focused communities have moved here to attend an on-island, neighborhood school. We welcome the children from Isle of Palms and other parts of Charleston County, too.
We thank Charleston County School District professionals and elected leaders for working so openly over the past three years to rebuild our school by August 2014.
It’s really hard to please an entire community and democracy never makes everyone happy all the time, but it’s the best governing process in the world.
We’ve had a school on the current site since 1955 and will continue to welcome children there as they enjoy “learning by the sea” for generations to come.
Our colleagues on Sullivan’s Island Town Council — Hartley Cooper, Jerry Kaynard, Patrick O’Neil, and Mary Jane Watson — endorse this letter.
See you at the groundbreaking next month.
Mike Perkis is mayor pro tempore of Sullivan’s Island. Madeleine McGee is a member of Town Council.