Holland residents push for school

Published 11:03 pm Thursday, December 10, 2009

Residents from Holland nearly filled the left side of the chambers, and 13 speakers from the Suffolk community — largely from Holland — made their voices heard Thursday during a public input session on a new school.

The Suffolk School Board held the meeting to hear suggestions regarding the combined school that will be created when Southwestern and Robertson Elementary schools are combined.

Residents expressed many of the same concerns about the school’s ultimate location that were cited during earlier opposition to the concept of consolidation. Placing the combined school in the Holland area would address those concerns, they suggested.

“My fear is that we would lose some of our needed support,” said Dawn Evans, a Southwestern parent and PTA president. “Our community is family-based.”

Holland resident Lorita Mayo concurred, saying the school in Holland “has always been an integral part of the community.”

Holland resident Mae Burke called on history to make her point.

“We’ve always had a school in the Holland area,” she said. “We know there are many things the board has to consider … we trust you will do what is right and fair.”

Other speakers from Holland expressed their desire to have the new school in their village, but warned the board that locating it on back roads would be dangerous. Inclement weather and slow-moving farm equipment can make those often-narrow back roads unsafe for heavy bus traffic, they said.

“Transportation is important, and those passengers being transported are our children — and that’s some precious cargo,” said resident Carlton Williams.

It is not a given that the School Board will agree to a Holland-based school. No site for the new facility has been chosen, School Board Chairwoman Lorraine Skeeter said as she discussed the different factors that will be taken into account while choosing a location.

Robertson and Southwestern will be closed when the consolidation takes place, and other schools will be rezoned accordingly.

But with both schools closing, some residents of Holland and Whaleyville are at odds regarding the best location for the new school, and Whaleyville residents — though lightly represented at Thursday’s meeting — were not ready to concede the battle to Holland.

Only four representatives from the Whaleyville community attended the meeting, including Robertson’s principal, Rhonda Jones.

Jones urged the board to “find a middle road. We have to serve such a rural community. We need to find some [common] ground.”

Another Robertson employee, Michelle Sowerby, also spoke to the board — but not about the location of the school. Sowerby emphasized the importance of involving the community and school employees in the design of the new building.

Jeff Gardy, one of four Suffolk city councilmen who attended, told the board that council wants to “get on with building” a school.

Gardy referenced several buildings that have been constructed in the past two years, specifically East Suffolk Recreation Center, the new police headquarters and the new Health and Human Services building. He drew parallels between the battle residents fought against having the health building in their backyards and the issue shaping up surrounding the new school.

“We had quite a bit of opposition” to the Health and Human Services building, Gardy said, joking he once thought the building would have to be constructed on wheels and moved around town. He warned against trying to please everybody, because “that’s not going to happen.”

“I do have empathy for you,” Gardy said. “I think everybody needs to have one goal … we want to get on with building one.”