Chapin High renovation project moves forward over councilwoman's objections

Temporary classrooms that would be replaced by the renovation
Temporary classrooms that would be replaced by the renovation

By Jody Barr - bio | email

CHAPIN, SC (WIS) - Chapin High School is one step closer to starting a $50 million renovation project. The project stopped after a Chapin woman filed an appeal to a DHEC permit over concerns about damaging a creek behind the school. But Friday morning, the school board voted to go ahead with the project after the Army Corps of Engineers gave the district the okay.

"It's really a very small ditch," said Lexington-Richland 5 spokesman Buddy Price. "It begins at the top, but as it comes down and get farther down. With heavy rains, it has eaten out the sides of it. But it provides that drainage to come off the parking lot."

Price says the ditch has held up a $50 million construction project at Chapin High. The renovations would give the school room to hold 1,700 students, and do away with 23 mobile classrooms. Chapin High would also have a new gym and new traffic routes, to help ease the traffic jams around the school.
In August, DHEC gave the district permits to start building. But Kim Murphy filed an appeal, expressing her concerns over damaging the creek. That appeal, according to the district, cost taxpayers more than $1.2 million extra.

Murphy, elected to the board two weeks ago, hasn't backed down. "That ticket runs every day," said Board Chair Robert Gantt.

Gantt was part of a special-called board meeting Friday morning. With a 6-1 vote, the board decided to go ahead with the renovations. The Army Corps of Engineers gave the district permits to build, supporting DHEC's permits and going against Murphy's appeal.    
In audio recordings from the meeting, board member Jan Hammond questioned Murphy about the appeal. "What is the bottom line that you're trying to do for the good of this district?" Hammond asked. "Because it appears that we're holding up progress on something that we really need."

"I would like for my attorneys to have an opportunity to present to all of you in maybe a public session," responded Murphy.

"I think the question was, as an individual, I don't think we need to hear from your attorneys," replied Gantt. "We'd like to hear from you."

Murphy told the board she could drop the appeal, but she wants "Other alternatives to avoid, or minimize damage on the creek."

Despite the government's findings, Murphy says construction would hurt water quality. "One of the options on the table is for her to drop this appeal," said Gantt. "She has the power to do that and I think people would embrace that. The students would win."

Late Friday afternoon, Murphy sent us the following statement about the project:

"The federal clean water act requires a valid state water quality certification - a 401 certification - prior to issuing the US Army Corps of Engineers 404 permit that would allow disturbing waters of the US.

Such 401 certification must be valid before a 404 permit is issued. Here, no valid certification exists where the DHEC decision is automatically stayed by our appeal to the SC Administrative Law Court.  We contend as did the DNR, US Fish and Wildlife, and Corps staff that the district's plan of filling in 700+ feet of a stream failed to avoid or minimize permanent destruction to the stream and its aquatic ecosystem where feasible alternatives are available... alternatives that would also be much less costly to taxpayers and still meet the need if additional ball fields are necessary."

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