An idea worth considering

Published 9:50 pm Wednesday, December 19, 2012

When Andy Damiani speaks, people listen. Or at least they should.

Few people alive today have a broader knowledge of Suffolk — especially historic or “Old Suffolk” — than Damiani. People call him “Mr. Suffolk” or “Suffolk’s elder statesman” for a reason. At 91 years old, the former mayor of the city still makes it his business to know what’s happening in the city he adopted so long ago. And his understanding of what makes a community work may be without parallel, even among current city officials.

Damiani watches trends and has an insight into people and their preferences that makes him uniquely qualified to offer suggestions and advice, particularly when it comes to the sorts of things that could make the downtown area a thriving business and residential area again.

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Recently, he offered a bit of that advice to the School Board, encouraging members to consider finding a way to locate a school in Old Suffolk. He had researched bus routes and learned that students from the two-square-mile area encompassing the original city of Suffolk are bussed on more than 40 different routes to schools located in what used to be Nansemond County.

Damiani said one of the things that makes a community a cohesive place is a school, especially an elementary school. When an elementary school is located nearby, parents tend to get to know one another through events held at the facility. The school becomes a point of connection for them — more than churches, businesses and other community organizations.

With the continued growth in North Suffolk, current plans do not call for any schools to be located in Old Suffolk. In fact, the city’s plan to build an elementary school along Route 58 to serve residents of Whaleyville and Holland suggests Suffolk has repudiated the idea of community schooling.

But Damiani’s suggestion should not be dismissed out of hand. The School Board should consider the educational benefits that might be gained by having a downtown-area elementary school. And the City Council, which would provide the funds for any new educational facilities, should seriously consider the potentially transformative effects such a school could have on a suffering downtown area. Damiani’s is an idea worth considering.