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Council shoots down school site

Suffolk City Council voted 5-3 on Wednesday to uphold a recommendation against a new elementary school on Copeland Road.

The majority of the Council shot down the proposed site for a new elementary school to replace Southwestern and Robertson elementary schools. The site on 1553 Copeland Road is not appropriate for a large elementary school, according to the comprehensive plan, the majority decided.

The vote means that the School Board will have to come up with a new site to propose for the new school.

Councilmen Joe Barlow and Leroy Bennett and Vice Mayor Curtis Milteer disagreed, voting against accepting the Planning Commission’s recommendation.

“The plan itself gives a little leeway to use your judgment,” Barlow said.

The city’s 2026 Comprehensive Plan guides against placing large schools in the Rural Conservation Agricultural District, and instead recommends that schools be placed either in the Urban/Suburban Growth districts — greater downtown and North Suffolk — or in the villages.

However, the proposed replacement school would draw students from the western and southern parts of the city, as well as from areas of downtown. Putting the school in the village of Holland, the village of Whaleyville or in downtown would create inordinately long bus rides for elementary school students from the other two areas, school officials have said.

The City Council voted last month to defer the construction of the new school until the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

Milteer recommended the matter be referred back to the School Board to come up with a better site to put forward. None of the other sites the board has considered fit within the comprehensive plan, he said, noting he had visited many of the 17 sites. Meanwhile, other Council members knew of only one or two other sites, or none at all.

“It’s apparent there is some question [about] other sites,” Councilman Jeffrey Gardy said. “All we’ve got tonight is one site that doesn’t meet our comprehensive plan.”

Aside from the site’s incompatibility with the plan, some Council members were concerned about the high levels of fluoride detected in well water in the area. The school would be served by well water if it were constructed at 1553 Copeland Road.

Mayor Linda T. Johnson also had a concern about pesticides in the area, and their proximity to children playing outside during recess.

“Are we going to tell the farmers they can’t spray their fields?” she asked.

Councilman Charles Parr recommended the school be put on U.S. Route 58, noting the growth in the area tends toward that corridor.

“I don’t see this being the location,” Parr said. “I believe it’s on 58.”

Some Council members, like Parr, also were concerned about setting a precedent of ignoring the comprehensive plan.

“I think we’re opening up Pandora’s box” if we approve this site, Parr said.

The matter now will return to the School Board for consideration.