Schools, city work through process

Published 7:58 pm Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In the wake of a couple of contentious weeks between Suffolk’s School Board and City Council, City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn is pressing her counterpart in school administration for an unprecedented level of cooperation between the two government bodies.

In a July 19 letter to interim School Superintendent Deran Whitney, Cuffee-Glenn suggests that school officials work with city administrative staff to find a suitable site for a new elementary school that would serve the southern part of the city.

In June, School Board members were upset at what they considered encroachment by the City Council on the School Board’s right to select a site for the school that would replace both Southwestern Elementary School in Holland and Robertson Elementary in Whaleyville.

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Although the idea of the combined schools was agreed to last year and the Council had set aside funds to pay for the construction, the site selection process had been a lengthy one and was ultimately halted after a site the School Board had selected was turned down by the city’s Planning Commission.

Now, the School Board is back in the site selection process again, this time with the help of the city manager’s office.

In a letter dated July 12, Dr. Whitney of the school system thanked the City Council for its offer to help.

“Thank you for your assistance and willingness to work cooperatively with Suffolk Public Schools in its efforts to find an appropriate site to replace Southwestern and Robertson Elementary Schools,” the letter read.

Whitney informed the city manager of the system’s plans to hire an outside firm to ensure the site selected would fit the city’s comprehensive plan.

“… the School Board has directed me to have the engineering firm of Kimley-Horn to evaluate sites currently under consideration by the School Board to determine whether any of those sites comply with the City’s Comprehensive Plan,” Whitney wrote.

But in her July 19 reply, Cuffee-Glenn suggested the system use the city’s staff to judge the sites’ worthiness, rather than hiring an outside firm.

“… as an alternative that may be helpful and can save time and money, and illustrates our willingness to build a cooperative process, I would suggest that prior to engaging Kimley-Horn, that you first meet with my staff and share with them what sites the School Board currently has under consideration,” Cuffee-Glenn wrote. “Staff can then advise you as to what sites comply with the Comprehensive Plan.”

In addition to reminding Whitney the city holds final approval of the site, she suggested the system engage an engineering firm once the site has been selected and approved.

“Once it has been determined that your site or sites comply with the Comprehensive Plan, then it would be appropriate to engage an engineering consulting firm to advise on other matters relative to the suitability of a site for development,” Cuffee-Glenn wrote.

Whitney confirmed Wednesday the system is evaluating as many as 10 sites for the new school. He was unable to say just how much would be saved by using the city’s staffing resources in the selection process rather than hiring an outside engineering firm.

Staff writer Leila G. Roche contributed to this report.