Tear down the walls

Published 8:57 pm Wednesday, July 10, 2013

With many of the walls up and some of the steel having been erected at Pioneer Elementary School, now is an excellent time for folks to begin to come together in support of the project.

No educational project in recent memory has been as divisive or as contentious as this school, which is planned as a replacement for two schools — Robertson Elementary and Southwestern Elementary — that have been beloved by the people of their respective communities for many years.

The discussion surrounding the new facility has divided people right from the start, when the School Board started considering the future of a new school to serve the southern part of Suffolk more than two decades ago.

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In the beginning, folks argued about whether there should be one new school or two to replace the aging elementary facilities and serve the two communities. Finally, the recession settled that question, and the attentions of interested parents and School Board members were turned to the question of location, which proved to be an even more divisive issue, as people in both Holland and Whaleyville lobbied for the new school to be built in their own community.

With the School Board’s choice of property near Holland Road for the new facility, many observers expected the controversy over the 650-student elementary school to have finally been settled. But the wounds were opened again when it came time to name the new school. A naming committee recommended that it be called Southwestern Elementary — after the school in Holland whose students will attend the new facility — seemingly ignoring the fact that students from Robertson Elementary also would be in the new school and might feel slighted by the Holland-centric suggested name.

A 4-3 vote by the School Board in favor of Pioneer Elementary School settled the matter but did little to settle the hearts of the people who have been at odds with each other throughout the long process. School Board members have referred to the name as “a fresh start,” but for those watching from the outside, the process seems pretty much like the same old divisive thing.

Meanwhile, contractors are busy constructing the new school, and students and teachers can expect to be using it during the 2014-2015 school year. Perhaps as the construction workers build the real walls at Pioneer Elementary School, it’s a good time for those members of the community who have spent so much time building figurative ones between one another to consider tearing them down.

In the long run, the building will stand on its own foundation. But the school will need the support of the communities it serves.