Proposed new elementary school near Chapin infuriates neighbors

A plan to turn a hayfield near Chapin into the site of a new elementary school has infuriated nearby homeowners who worry about increased traffic and other problems in their largely rural area.

Dozens of homeowners near Amicks Ferry Road are pressing the Lexington-Richland 5 School Board to reject a plan to buy 24.3 acres of property at Amicks Ferry and Lake Tide Drive. For two months, the residents have attended school board meetings, posted signs at the site and rallied support on social media.

A school with up to 750 students would transform significantly a quiet peninsula on the north shore of Lake Murray where scattered neighborhoods are surrounded by farms and forests, nearby residents say.

New schools in Lexington-Richland 5 tend to spawn the rapid growth of new subdivisions nearby.

“No one disputes that growth is coming and the landscape is going to change,” said Michael Whitehurst, a leader of the effort to stop the proposed school. “But this is a major decision that is going to change a community.”

Lexington-Richland 5 Superintendent Stephen Hefner said the new school is needed to keep up with growth in the Chapin area and to relieve overcrowding at two nearby schools. Some students at Chapin and Lake Murray elementary schools are assigned to temporary classrooms, which create concerns about security and safety during severe weather, he said.

“In this era, I don’t think it’s good to have children in portable classrooms,” Hefner said.

Hefner has recommended purchasing the property, which is two miles south of Chapin, for $932,950.

The school board was scheduled to consider his proposal on Monday. But the issue has been postponed until July 17 because some final reports on the property won’t be ready by next week.

The district doesn’t have a timetable for opening the school, but School Board Chairman Robert Gantt predicted it could open in three to five years.

It could be financed with a mix of savings and loans that don’t require voter approval, he said.

Opponents of the district’s plan say the land’s purchase price is too high. Their other complaints include:

▪ More traffic on winding Amicks Ferry, the main route up and down the peninsula. From 2011-16, there were 140 accidents on the eight-mile road with 59 injuries and 1 death, according to state public safety officials.

▪ Hefner refuses to use another vacant site that the district already owns near Spring Hill High School. That site is about 7.5 miles from the Amicks Ferry property.

Opponents also say the district could redraw attendance lines for its existing 22 schools.

Hefner considers the flat site on Amicks Ferry appropriately priced and ideal for a school, saying there are few tracts available to meet development requirements for classrooms.

Also, redrawing school attendance lines is always controversial. Hefner rules that out because of the anxiety created for too many families and because it would erode school ties.

The site on Derrick Pond Road near Spring Hill High School is unacceptable for now, Hefner said. Putting a school there would double morning and afternoon bus trips for some students to nearly an hour, he said.

Gantt, the school board chairman, said choosing locations for new schools tends to be unpopular. “Things are a little tougher in this district at times,” he said. “I get their concerns.”

Board member Jan Hammond is reluctant to give the go-ahead for the Amicks Ferry site. She is urging school leaders “to slow it down” until more is known, particularly about the cost of construction and improvements required for traffic safety.

The nearby homeowners say they are willing to help find another site, but they are frustrated at what they say is lack of collaboration by school officials.

“This is a field-of-dreams approach,” Gary Heiligman said. “There’s no urgency to do this right here, right now.”

Hammond is concerned the ill feeling will create lingering hostility toward officials in the district, which has 17,000 students in the Chapin, Dutch Fork, Harbison, Irmo and St. Andrews areas.

“This could hurt us with mistrust,” she said. “This will set us back in a way I don’t want to see.”

State Rep. Chip Huggins, R-Irmo, acknowledged the unhappiness. “There’s a lot of discontent.”

Tim Flach: 803-771-8483

School enrollment

The number of students at two elementary schools in the Chapin area, according to Lexington-Richland 5:

Chapin : 651

Lake Murray: 993