Council balks at CIP plan

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 19, 2005

City lawmakers on Thursday balked at the Suffolk School Board’s recommendation to replace two aging elementary schools in Holland and Whaleyville with a single $19.8-million facility.

The Suffolk City Council, during its retreat last week, got its first look at the school division’s recently approved 2006-07 $47.5 million Capital Improvement Plan.

Besides calling for a new 675-student school to replace Robertson and Southwestern elementary schools, the CIP also recommends spending $22.2 million on an 800-student elementary school on Godwin Boulevard and $3.8 million to finish paying for Creekside Elementary, which opens on Shoulders Hill Road next September.

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City leaders, who spent much of their two-day retreat discussing ways to rejuvenate the city’s villages and neighborhoods, said community schools are valuable assets to Holland and Whaleyville.

&uot;Keeping the schools in the communities will have an effect on the quality of life in the villages,&uot; said Councilman Calvin Jones. &uot;We’ll lose some of that if the school is halfway between Whaleyville and Holland.

&uot;…Even though it will cost more, I support leaving a school in each village and dealing with the dollar issues.&uot;

Whaleyville Councilman Curtis Milteer Sr. echoed that sentiment, adding that research has shown that students in small schools often get better educations.

&uot;Robertson is an anchor to Whaleyville,&uot; he said. &uot;I think we need to put some of this money in bringing the schools up to state standards and leave them where they are.

&uot;I want the School Board to go back to the drawing board and come back with something better.&uot;

Building separate, smaller schools in each community would cost about $27 million and give the school division a total of 45 surplus seats, said School Superintendent Dr. Milton Liverman. The proposed consolidated school would give the school an extra 120 seats.

&uot;I know the recommendation of a single school has been an issue,&uot; Liverman said. &uot;…We’re talking about an extra $9 million.&uot;

The school system is expecting enrollment to hit a record 14,000 by the end of this month, said Liverman. But unlike the rest of the city, the student populations at Robertson and Southwestern are actually declining.

&uot;Our population in that area has declined by 5 percent,&uot; Liverman said. Approximately 100 of Robertson’s 164 students are bussed in from south Suffolk, he added.

Despite all the discussion surrounding a new school for southwestern Suffolk, the top priority on the School Board’s capital wish list has to be a new elementary for the Godwin Boulevard corridor, Liverman said.

Even after Creekside opens, Oakland and Mount Zion elementary schools, which serve the Godwin Boulevard area, will be overflowing, he said.