The Charleston County School District deferred temporarily abandoning downtown schools over seismic concerns until district staff formulates a more concrete plan on where students would go and how the district would pay for repairs — two questions that have yet to be answered.
"I want to make sure we have a full, mature plan," said board member Gregg Meyers. "What I'm hearing from the community is a comprehensive plan is better than a fast one."
Seismic studies released earlier this month identified structural flaws in four functioning schools that would endanger lives in the event of a significant earthquake.
A Summerville fault line hasn't provided a major quake in more than 100 years, but a well-documented 19th Century earthquake decimated the peninsula.
The building reviews, commissioned by the district, identified dangerous soil conditions for three of the four campuses. All of the schools have walls that aren't reinforced for intense shaking.
Proposals would send kids from Buist, Memminger, James Simmons, and Charleston Progressive, as well as Sullivan's Island, to empty buildings in various areas in the district, including the Academic Magnet High School, Berry Campus, Brentwood, and Whitesides.
District staff estimate repairs costs per school would range, on average, between $20 million and $30 million. Funding could come from a number of different sources, including available borrowing and sales tax collections. The buildings are likely to top a list of capital improvements that could go before voters in a November bond referendum. Staff suggested the district may look at using any and all of those options, as well as petitioning for federal aid considering these are upgrades to address the threat of a natural disaster.
Students would be expected to return to their old campuses by 2014. A final recommendation on where each school will land in the interim is expected by April 26.
Meyers said parents have told him they don't understand the urgency.
"A fair amount of the feedback I've received is that there's a fair amount of risk, but it's been 100 years," he said.
Buist dad and local restaurateur Mark Cumins asked school board members to take their time and not offer a knee-jerk reaction.
"I'd sign a waiver that wouldn't hold any of you responsible," he said. "I think most of the parents would do the same thing."
Superintendent Nancy McGinley said that she understood individual parents are willing to take the risk, but broader student concerns lead her to make the recommendation to temporarily abandon the schools.
"I believe it to be a moral imperative to move students and faculty out of buildings proven to have seismic challenges."