School site impasse continues

Published 11:43 pm Friday, August 20, 2010

Once again, members of Suffolk School Board have locked horns with the City Council on a location for a new elementary school.

In a 4-3 decision late Thursday night, the Board declined a City Council recommendation that the school set to replace Holland’s Southwestern and Whaleyville’s Robertson Elementary schools be built on a lot in Holland.

“This ought to be about educational issues, not political ones,” School Board Vice Chair William Whitley said. “It ought to be about common sense and fairness to all the children this decision will affect.”

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Whitley was joined in voting against the council recommendation by School Board members Diane Foster, Michael Debranski and Phyllis Byrum, who represents the Whaleyville Borough.

Holy Neck representative Enoch Copeland, whose borough is served by Southwestern Elementary, was joined in his support of the City Council-recommended site by School Board Chair Lorraine Skeeter and member Thelma Hinton.

“Both the villages are important to people in both communities, but there is no way to build a school in the middle,” Copeland said. “We need a school, and we need one now. We have to start somewhere, and Holland is the first place for a school.”

Earlier this year, the School Board proposed a centrally located school site to City Council. Council denied the necessary permit, because the site did not comply with Suffolk’s comprehensive plan, which calls for schools to be located within the city’s villages and downtown area.

In voting against the council recommendation on Thursday, Board members reiterated their desire for the city to reconsider amending the comprehensive plan.

“I can’t support this, because my understanding was that this school is to serve both communities,” Debranksi said. “To be fair to both, we should ask the City to review its plans and work with us to find a central location.”

Since students from both communities would attend the school and take advantage of its recreational offerings, a central location is ideal, some school officials say.

But Copeland argued that the building’s multiple uses constitute a reason to place it in Holland, which “would have nothing without a school.” He further argued the school would become obsolete as a recreation center if placed in a central location.

“There’s just no way to build a school in the middle,” Copeland argued. “They would be in contact with farmers, loggers and the money the recreation department would put in it would be wasted, because no one will bring their children down that dark road.”

Although it was recognized that both communities are inextricably tied to their schools, “the Holland community passed AYP, not like in other communities in Suffolk,” Copeland said. “We have education minded people in the community.”

He also made the argument that the school should be in Holland due to growth along Route 58, which would bring increased truck traffic.

Not everyone agreed, though.

“I can’t support the recommendation, because it’s my understanding that this new school will serve children in both the Holland and Whaleyville communities,” Debranski said. “To be fair to children in both, I cannot accept this recommendation.”

After the meeting, School Board Chair Lorraine Skeeter said the next step would be to notify the Council of the Board’s denial of their recommendation and “go back to the drawing board.”