by Paul Bowers
After hearing complaints from several Johns Island parents and a vocal chorus of their supporters at a meeting Monday night, the Charleston County School District Board of Trustees voted Monday night to consider replacing the building at Angel Oak Elementary School.
Built in 1976, the school was already slated for a $9.3 million renovation to be completed as early as August 2015 under the district's capital improvement program, which is funded by the penny sales tax that Charleston County residents voted to extend in a referendum on Nov. 4. But parents and teachers at the meeting Monday night said they wanted the district to build an entirely new school instead. They described leaky roofs during rainstorms that led to damp conditions inside the school. PTA President Coty Heydrick, who has four children at Angel Oak, said the moisture was causing mold to grow in the school.
"My second-grader's classroom completely floods when it rains, and some of the other second-grade classrooms do as well," Heydrick said. "It's ruining their supplies. If their bookbags happen to be on the floor, it's ruining their bookbags. We've got German cockroaches crawling around the school, crawling on the lunch tables when the kids are having lunch."
PTA Vice President Toni Woodard recently shot a video of the conditions inside the school on Oct. 8. In the video, water can be seen leaking from the ceiling into a large wheeled trash can. Woodard says the can had already been emptied four times by the time she shot the video.
Johns Island resident James Grimes said his granddaughter and other students at the school had contracted bronchitis after spending time in the sometimes-damp school building.
"Rain pours into the building, we have to interrupt classes and move them, and these kids are sick," Grimes said. "We don't want a stadium, we don't want a gigantic Taj Mahal, we just want a school for our kids."
Newly elected boardmember Eric L. Mack, in one of his first acts representing West Ashley on the school board, made a motion to order district staff to provide a cost estimate for replacing the Angel Oak building. The board approved his motion, and district staff members are expected to provide an estimate at the next Audit and Finance Committee meeting in December.
Jeff Roman, the district's deputy for capital programs, said at the meeting that the district had hoped to hire an architectural engineer to work on renovations at Angel Oak by the end of the month. He said the district would have to hold off on hiring the engineer because of the board's decision, effectively delaying the renovations that had already been planned at the school.
But parents said after the meeting that they had seen the plans for the renovation, which included a relocation of the computer lab and the addition of two child development classrooms, and they were unhappy with them.
Woodard said she was not yet satisfied with the school board's actions.
"When they say that it is going to be in stone that Angel Oak is going to get a new school and it's on paper ... and I see construction vehicles coming to the school, I'll believe it then," Woodard said.