One project, at the expense of another?

Published 9:04 pm Thursday, September 16, 2010

If members of the Suffolk School Board ever wondered whether it might be counterproductive to feud with the City Council over the location of a proposed replacement for Robertson and Southwestern elementary schools, the answer came loud and clear on Wednesday.

Taking a look at three different capital projects that are going nowhere — the new school, the King’s Highway Bridge and the widening of Holland Road — council members decided to throw some money instead at a project with a chance of getting completed. The road-widening project along Nansemond Parkway, they decided, is where the smart money should go, so they pulled funds from each of the other three projects and agreed to invest the money in Nansemond Parkway.

By shuffling a total of up to $3 million to the Parkway project, the city can actually get that project moving and complete. None of the other three projects were in that position. Both the bridge and the Holland Road project would require significantly more cash than the city has available. In fact, neither is likely without major help from the state or federal government. And as far as the new southern school is concerned, until leaders of both governing bodies find a point of compromise, the site selection process is terminally stalled, and the money that was sitting in the bank for engineering and other project-startup fees would just gather dust and lose purchasing power.

Wednesday’s decision gets an important project to a point where work can start. Nansemond Parkway has long been one of Suffolk’s most dangerous roads. The expected growth of communities alongside that road in North Suffolk will make it even more dangerous. Widening the road will be a good thing for the residents who live alongside it, for the schools and businesses located along it and for the many commuters and other travelers who use it.

Taking part of the necessary $2.3 million needed to complete the road project from the stalled southern school fund also sends a message to the School Board. As long as School Board members insist on stalling the project with studies and meetings and hearings all pointing to the same hard choices to be made — and yet still avoid making those choices — the school will not get built, anyway, and the money might as well be put to use somewhere else.

Perhaps Wednesday’s action by the City Council will be enough to shake School Board members out of their ruts. If not, don’t be surprised if there are some other stalled projects in Suffolk that City Council suddenly finds a way to fund.