COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Dreher High School students and the school's booster club want to build several athletic facilities on the Millwood Drive campus, but they are running into pushback from concerned homeowners in the area.
The controversy has consumed the area and even City of Columbia leaders who will have a public meeting to discuss granting a zoning permit to the plan on March 20 at 7 p.m.
Tuesday morning, a group of almost a dozen people gathered outside Dreher High School. Some were parents, others were booster club members, and the rest were Dreher students.
"It's just confusing to me," said Alexis Cole, a junior.
All of them are confused by the backlash Dreher is getting from some of its neighbors. All of them say that it's not fair that Dreher doesn't have the facilities that most schools have.
"We realize that District One doesn't have the facilities and money to give us everything that the District Two schools have, but I can tell you, there's not one school – one high school in the Midlands, not one, public or private – that looks like what we do behind our school," said Shep Headley, the incoming president of the school's athletic booster club.
For years, Headley and the others have wanted to change that. He and the others want a new multi-purpose turf field behind the school with lighting for junior varsity football and junior varsity soccer. They also want new lighted tennis courts.
"We have to go to other people's courts and try to call them our own," senior Tymia Bowles said.
Families say the three tennis courts that Dreher has are now outdated and inadequate for match play. Because of that, Dreher tennis players like Bowles don't have a true home.
"Not everyone can have a car, and not everyone's old enough to drive or has the ability to go get their license. It especially was hard when I was in middle school – an eighth-grader playing – my mom would have to leave work early to come bring me to practice," added Cole, another tennis player.
Meanwhile, soccer players like Cameron Sonefeld, the student body president, know the pain too.
"Ever since I was a freshman, we've been traveling to Hand Middle School to practice," Sonefeld said. "It's been really difficult because not a lot of people can drive on our team,"
The dilemma makes life tough for parents like Shelley Montague.
"I work, and trying to leave work to get where they need to be for practice – when we don't have home facilities – is a challenge," Montague said.
In just a week, Columbia City Council could rezone Dreher to help Dreher get the facilities it desires. It'll need "Residential" zoning before it can bring each proposal in front of the city's Board of Zoning Appeals. For the past year, Dreher and its allies have been lobbying city council members and Mayor Steve Benjamin for the "Residential" zoning.
However, the vote won't be quick and easy. Some of the neighbors nearby have complained about the potential noise, light pollution, traffic, and fear of the unknown. They've also said there isn't a sufficient buffer to block out those undesirables.
"Under any reasonable evaluation criteria and consideration, the proposed changes will significantly and adversely affect the surrounding residential neighborhoods by degrading our quality of life, destroying the distinctiveness of our historic neighborhood and reducing property values," wrote two of the neighbors, Mickey and Fran Mauldin, in a recent letter. "In return for this devastation, the District will achieve only questionable, peripheral, non-academic and nonmeasurable benefit/enhancement to student life.
Meanwhile, the Dreher students, booster club members, and parents hope those voices won't win the day.
"There's nothing about it that's right, and we just want to know why the voices of the neighbors back behind the wall – why are their voices more important than the 1,100 students at this school?" said a Dreher parent, Leanna Beck. "Why?"
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin supports the students, according to a tweet in response to a parent in the area.