Council, Board talk schools

Published 9:26 pm Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Most Suffolk City Council members confirmed that they are in favor of building one school in the Holland and Whaleyville communities during a joint meeting with the School Board on Wednesday.

A lengthy discussion about the schools’ capital improvements plan centered on the request for a replacement of Southwestern Elementary School, and renovation of Robertson Elementary School. Council members want to build one school to replace the two schools because it will save on capital and operating costs. However, council members also said that another school in the rural areas would not be out of the question if growth demands it.

“We need a new school, everybody agrees on that,” said Councilman Jeffrey Gardy. “Let’s build one school that we can afford. Let’s get on with it, and not just think about it.”


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The two elementary schools in the rural Holland and Whaleyville communities have been the subject of debate for about 13 years. Both are old and deteriorating, and both serve less than 350 students. A proposal to replace Southwestern and renovate and expand Robertson has been on the table for a couple years, with the School Board advocating that option and the City Council favoring one combined school.

“I’m in support of the one-school concept,” said Councilman Charles Parr. However, he wanted the council to consider pushing the funding to 2010 or 2011 to give the economy time to bounce back.

“I want to push funding to a time when the economics are better,” he said, adding that now would be a good time to find and purchase land.

One argument for the two-school concept is the fact that the division’s youngest students – most between ages 4 and 10 – would be required to ride long distances to attend school. However, council members said that would not affect the quality of instruction.

“I do not measure the quality of education by the distance they have to ride to school,” Councilman Joe Barlow said.

“We should go ahead and move forward with the one school concept,” said Councilman Leroy Bennett.

School Board Chairwoman Lorraine Skeeter requested a commitment from council to fund a new school in the Whaleyville community a few years down the road, but council shied away from committing themselves to future funding. In the end, all council members except Curtis Milteer – who declined to give his preference – announced they are in favor of building one school at this time, wherever that might be. In the future, council members said, they will consider other schools as growth demands them.