A good delay

Published 8:56 pm Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Suffolk School Board made it official this week: There will be at least a one-year delay in construction of a new elementary school to serve the southern portion of the city.

After months of back and forth with the City Council, the School Board was put in a position earlier this month that left it little room to maneuver when City Council members voted to withdraw $1.4 million from a capital set-aside fund for the schools and devote that money to a road-widening project on Nansemond Parkway.

The money was to have been used by the School Board to pay for some of the pre-construction costs that would have arisen once a site was selected for a new school to replace aging Southwestern and Robertson Elementary schools. But since the School Board has been unwilling to place that school within either the Holland or Whaleyville villages that are primarily served by the existing facilities — and since council members have been unwilling to amend Suffolk’s comprehensive plan to allow schools outside of the villages — there was little likelihood of a site being chosen anytime soon.

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So City Council members wisely voted to use that money on a desperately needed project that required only sufficient funding to be ready to get under way. The School Board heard interim Superintendent Deran Whitney explain on Thursday that losing the money from the schools’ capital fund would set the project behind. The delay should not be a little less than an entire year, as the $1.4 million was moved into the 2011-2012 budget, which goes into effect next July.

Still, with about nine months before the money will be available again, both the School Board and the City Council have time now to come to an understanding about what is best for the people of Suffolk, including both schoolchildren and taxpayers.

We have advocated in the past for pausing this discussion until after the November elections. At the very least, Thursday’s revelation ensures that some fresh minds will consider the problem in the coming months.

The people of Suffolk can only hope that those fresh minds come with high levels of common sense and a willingness to work together. The project can be delayed, but something must be done much sooner than later, as both schools are critically in need of repair or replacement.