School site approved

Published 10:44 pm Thursday, May 3, 2012

After decades of delays and indecision, the Suffolk City Council on Wednesday gave the go-ahead for a new elementary school serving the southwestern portion of the city to be constructed on Holland Road.

“I just want to say, ‘Praise the Lord, you got a contract,’” Councilman Charles Parr said before the unanimous vote.

Suffolk Public Schools for many years has hoped to build a new school or schools to replace the aging Southwestern and Robertson elementary schools.

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City Council and the School Board went back and forth during those years on the issue of how many schools to build. Many people in Holland and Whaleyville wanted two separate schools to preserve smaller class sizes, shorter bus rides and community identity, but others argued building two schools would double construction and operating expenses.

With the arrival of the Great Recession, the one-school side prevailed. However, the question of where to build the school remained.

Two years ago, City Council shot down a proposed site at 1553 Copeland Road, because it did not fit into the city’s comprehensive plan, which guides against placing schools in rural areas.

Four months later, City Council recommended a location near the ball fields in Holland. The very next night, the School Board turned that site down. Later that fall, the board voted to wait at least a year before making any decisions on a site.

Last year, Robertson Elementary School was closed as a cost-cutting measure, making the need for a new school even greater.

The next decision came this February, when the School Board suggested the parcel at 100 Pioneer Road, at its intersection with Holland Road.

Over the objections of neighbors who raised concerns about traffic and drainage, the Planning Commission approved the site in February.

It hit more delays in the March 21 City Council meeting. Council members wanted to see a contract with the owners before they approved the site. They delayed it for 30 days and revisited it in April, only to have it delayed for another two weeks at the request of Suffolk Public Schools because there still was no contract in place.

On Wednesday, Superintendent Deran Whitney said he had forwarded the contract within the last few days before the meeting.

“It’s with a great deal of pleasure I make the motion to approve,” said Councilman Jeffrey Gardy, who represents the borough where the school will be built.

The 700-pupil school is scheduled to open in September 2014.