[image-1]Backing out of proposal to build in the Carolina Park community, Charleston County School Board approved a new plan to construct the East Cooper regional athletic stadium on the campus of Wando High School.

Facing opposition on both sides Monday evening, the board heard from Carolina Park residents who were concerned that the addition of a new stadium in their neighborhood would lead to increased traffic woes, light pollution, and the possibility that the stadium would be leased out to larger events. On the other side of the issue were Wando parents and students who opposed the construction of a stadium on one of the school’s practice fields, saying that the construction would prove too great a distraction for students and the loss of the practice field would be overly burdensome to athletes and band members.

Ultimately, for many of the members of the board the debate came down to cost.

According Jeff Borowy, chief operating officer with the district, heightened requirements to build in Carolina Park would drive the final price tag for the stadium up to more than $25 million. In addition to additional brickwork and the removal and replacement of soil insisted upon by Carolina Park’s developer, the district would also need zoning variances from the Mt. Pleasant Board of Zoning Appeals to allow stadium parking more than 80 feet from the facility and approval for lighting.

By comparison, building the new stadium using a practice field and track on the Wando campus would cost an estimated $13 million, half of the expected cost for the alterative plan. Funding for the project, with a budget of $19.8 million, comes from a penny sales tax that was approved by voters in 2014.

“I’m not a numbers guy. I don’t do math for a living, but seven zeros is seven zeros,” said board member Michael Miller. “So when we’re talking about a potential savings of $6 million or a potential expense, ladies and gentlemen, we can talk about it haphazardly by saying it’s just a couple pennies here or a couple pennies there. I don’t know where you’re living, but $6 million is not a little bit of money.”

The initial vote to terminate the land-purchase contract with Carolina Park and approve the stadium at Wando proved unsuccessful, but board members Miller, Chris Staubes, and Rev. Eric Mack quickly reversed their votes against the plan. The final tally was 5-2 in favor of the stadium at Wando, with board members Rev. Chris Collins and Kevin Hollinshead voting against the new plan and Todd Garrett and Priscilla Jeffery absent for the vote.

Speaking of finances, the board also approved a nearly $500,000 pay increase for themselves and members of the constituent school board. Members of the district board will now receive $14,428 a year for their services, a figure based on 40 percent of a teacher’s starting salary in the district. Constituent board members will receive half that amount in annual salary.

The plan was proposed as a way to attract more skilled candidates to serve on the boards, but an effort to postpone the pay bump until the 2018 election was dead on arrival. Saying he was uncomfortable voting to give himself a raise, Staubes voiced a motion to hold off on the pay increase until after the next election. He also provided the only vote in support of the motion, with board member Cindy Bohn Coats abstaining. The final pay increase was approved 4-2, with Hollinshead, Collins, Miller, and Mack voting in support. Staubes and board member Kate Darby voted against the plan, and Coats abstained. There now remains the issue of where board members expect to find this money in the budget.

“I’m assuming we’ll be reducing our fund balance by $500,000,” Darby asked with more than a hint of disapproval in her voice.

“I’m assuming,” Coats responded, matching Darby’s tone.