Council delays school decisionPublished 9:39pm Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Editor’s Note: This story has been edited from its original format to include the last paragraph.
Telling the school superintendent that he didn’t do his homework, Councilman Curtis Milteer joined the winning side of a 5-3 vote to delay a decision on a Holland school site for 30 days.
Suffolk Public Schools had applied for a conditional use permit for the site at the intersection of Pioneer and Holland roads. Three people — Superintendent Deran Whitney and two School Board members — spoke in favor of the site during a public hearing on Wednesday.
Only two nearby residents spoke against it, expressing concerns about traffic and site drainage and complaining that no community input had gone into choosing the site.
“This site was never discussed with any of the residents in the area,” said Roxanne Francis, who also told City Council they could “see the ruts where the tractors have been stuck” because of poor drainage.
She also warned that Holland Road will become increasingly congested with development in coming years.
“There’s a truck accident with trucks falling all over 58 almost once a week,” she said.
But some City Council members had a different concern — the fact there is no contract in place with the owners of the land, Marion and Lydia Harrell, who use it as farmland.
“I’m not going to pass anything until it’s locked down in some type of form,” Councilman Charles Parr said after making a motion to delay the decision.
Whitney said the school system did not want to appear presumptuous.
“We didn’t want to send the message we were assuming this site would be approved,” he said.
But after decades of discussing where to put a new school to serve the southwestern portion of the city, some City Council members were ready to act on Wednesday.
“I think we’ve waited a long, long time,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said. “I’m willing to put my faith in what’s been done. I’d like to see this school built this century.”
Whitney said any delay would interfere with the “aggressive” timetable that would allow the school to open in September 2014. But the council members in favor of delaying the decision pointed out that the decision already has been delayed for years.
“A child has not missed a day out of school because it wasn’t built,” Milteer said.
Councilmen Robert Barclay and Jeff Gardy joined Johnson in voting against tabling the decision. Barclay had the construction of a different school in mind.
“If this project gets significantly delayed, that affects the timing of the new middle school for northern Suffolk,” he said.
Whitney said the school division would work toward getting a contract with the owners in place during the next month. The issue will be taken up again April 18.
Later in the night, Councilman Leroy Bennett presented a motion to reconsider the vote, saying he had intended to vote against tabling the decision but hit the wrong button. However, the motion died on a tied vote with Barclay, Mike Duman and Johnson also supporting a re-vote. Tied votes on the eight-member council mean that the motion fails, so the original 5-3 vote stood.