By Al Dozier

Despite strong opposition from residents in the Chapin community the District 5 School Board Monday approved the purchase of a 24- acre tract of land along Amick’s Ferry Road for a new elementary school.

The vote came as more than 200 people filled the stadium at the Center for Advanced Technical Studies where the meeting was held. In the wake of the heated opposition, security precautions were taken as people entered the auditorium.

The board approved the $932,950 purchase by a 6-1 vote after hearing complaints from dozens of Chapin residents about the safety of the location at Amicks Ferry Road and Lake Tide Drive just south of the town of Chapin.

Board member Jan Hammond cast the only dissenting vote. She expressed concern about the lack of a “public buy-in” to the plan.

“I have been concerned about the safety of the road and the costs,” she said.

She also expressed concerned that the board has not been shown the demographics that would prove the need for the location, and had not looked at other options.

Board member Beth Hutchison defended the decision but expressed her respect for opponents of the project.

“I appreciate the passion,” she said. “You have been outspoken.”

But she said “growth is certain” in the Chapin area and the locations “is an incredible site.”

Board member Ed White said the site was one of three tracts examined by consultants and was the only available site that would meet the specifications sought by the district.

Before the vote dozens of Chapin residents voiced the same complaints the board has heard during the past several months.

The board should know what the community has been saying about Amick’s Ferry Road, said Rebecca Connelly.

“There’s only one way in and one way out,” she said.

“Getting someone to Palmetto Health Hospital from that location would be a problem,” said Kathy Robinson.

Another resident pointed out the safety problems with a road that has no shoulders. Accidents are frequent because drivers have no option to get off the road.

Lexington County Councilman Darrell Hudson advised the board to “listen to your constituents.”

He said the location of the elementary school would be a similar mistake as the placement of River Bluff High School in Lexington, which he said turned out to be a “disaster.”

“It is not a good place to build a school,” said Karen Larabee. “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Sometimes the right thing to do is just say no.”

Several citizens questioned whether enrollment data justified the need for the new school.

A petition against the project was signed by 830 people but White said that would only represent a small fraction of the residents who would be served by the school.

Before the vote Superintendent Stephen Hefner attempted to address the major concerns that have been heard at the past several board meetings.

A traffic study has been completed in compliance with State Department of Education requirements and the site was found suitable, he said.

The need for a new elementary school in Chapin was documented in 2008. While some have questioned enrollment growth in the area, Hefner said projections show the enrollment has not peaked, but will continue to grow as people are attracted to the lake area and by the district’s schools.

The geographic location is good because it will “serve Chapin students in Chapin.”

While some have suggested the district could address the problem with new assignment designations to existing schools, Hefner said “rezoning can provided a temporary help but not a permanent solution.”

As it became apparent that the vote was going to support the purchase, many disappointed citizens left the meeting early.

The construction of the new school, which would house some 750 students, is expected to be completed in two years.