City, schools work separately toward same goal

Published 9:35 pm Friday, August 13, 2010

The city and school system apparently are conducting separate searches for the site of a new school.

After initially agreeing to the help, Suffolk Public Schools waved off an offer of help from the city in finding a site for a new elementary school.

Instead, the School Board will proceed with its own search.

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And city staffers will continue with their own search, as directed by City Council.

Interim Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney informed City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn in a July 22 letter that the school division would move forward with a review of possible sites by a consulting firm, rather than letting the city step in.

The school division has been seeking a site for a replacement school for the aging Southwestern and Robertson elementary schools for years. A site on Copeland Road was shot down earlier this year, first by the Planning Commission and then by City Council, because it is not appropriate for a large school, according to the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

At a June City Council meeting, a majority of council members voted to instruct the city manager to work with planners to find a suitable site for the school. School Board members saw it as encroachment on their decision.

Nearly a month later, Whitney wrote to Cuffee-Glenn that the engineering firm of Kimley-Horn would be evaluating sites currently under consideration by the School Board to determine if they comply with the Comprehensive Plan. He also invited the city to share its site recommendations.

In her reply, Cuffee-Glenn offered the services of city staff to help determine Comprehensive Plan compliance, rather than the schools spending money to engage Kimley-Horn.

Whitney, however, replied that the site review by Kimley-Horn would not cost the school division.

“Because time is of the essence, we are proceeding with the review by Kimley-Horn as planned,” he wrote in a July 22 letter. He again invited suggestions from the city on where to place the school.

In a July 30 letter to City Council members, Cuffee-Glenn suggested she has received little cooperation from the school system.

“Based on the responses I have received, there seems to be very little interest in meeting or working cooperatively to evaluate the numerous sites that, reportedly, the board has under consideration,” she wrote.

The city manager added that she did not know how much Kimley-Horn was paid to review the Copeland Road site that was denied earlier this year. City Council authorized $60,000 last year to assist with the replacement review effort.

“Based on the direction given to Dr. Whitney and his latest response to me, staff and I have no other option but to proceed independently with the direction we received from City Council,” Cuffee-Glenn wrote. “We plan to provide a timely recommendation to you, and forward a report to the School Board after your review.”

A discussion of the replacement site is scheduled for City Council’s Aug. 18 closed session.