The Post and Courier

By Paul Bowers  |  |

After months of debate, years of delay, public outcry and a contentious school rezoning process, West Ashley’s Stono Park Elementary is finally on track for a complete replacement by August 2019.

Stono Park parent Jamilah Frazier attended a makeshift groundbreaking event Friday in the auditorium of Stono Park’s temporary home at the old St. Andrew’s High School.

While she was glad to hear news that construction on a new school was under way, she said she felt the greatest relief last summer when a demolition crew leveled the decrepit old building that her children used to attend.

It all started in November 2010 when Charleston County voters approved a one-cent sales tax to fund school construction projects, including constructing and equipping of a new Stono Park Elementary School.

A timeline provided to a citizens’ oversight committee in March 2011 indicated the district would spend $26.6 million to build a new Stono Park that would open by August 2016. But by early 2016, the Charleston County School District had downgraded the project to a $9 million renovation of the existing 65-year-old building.

Parents, teachers and students pleaded with the school board to tear down and replace the old building which had a litany of problems including faulty heating and air-conditioning, recurring mold and mildew growth, termite infestations, flooding, moisture-damaged floors and classroom trailers, tiny classrooms and bad plumbing.

“Particularly if you want to have another referendum in the future, we need to have what the voters voted for,” Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg told the board in February 2016. Seven months later, the board approved $24.8 million to build a new 500-student, two-story Stono Park.

School board member Michael Miller, who holds one of the West Ashley seats on the board, was the first to oppose the downgraded renovation plan.

“It took a concerted effort from community members advocating for the construction of a new building,” Miller said.

As a condition for providing the construction funds, the school board required at least 667 students to be zoned for Stono Park. The constituent school board governing West Ashley schools held hours-long meetings in early 2017 to redraw attendance lines with neighboring Springfield, Oakland and St. Andrew’s School of Math and Science, to the consternation of families who did not want their children to be rezoned.

The board finally drew a new map that satisfied the requirements, opening the gates for construction to start.

After keeping the pressure on district officials for years alongside other Stono Park parents, Frazier said she learned a lot about community engagement and politics. She said she’ll continue to work on issues that affect her community.

“As a voter, I had already voted on the penny (sales tax), so I assumed we were getting the school. But then we had to fight for two years to make it happen,” Frazier said.

The school district hired SGA Architecture to design the 75,000-square-foot building. It hired Cumming Construction Management to oversee the project.