Sullivan Middle School soon will have a new track and field complex off Maplewood Lane, which is concerning some area residents.
The Rock Hill school district is building a new language immersion academy at Sullivan Middle School as part of the $110 million bond referendum passed in 2015. The academy is being built where the middle school’s track and athletic field once stood, said Tony Cox, deputy superintendent for the district.
That means Sullivan’s track and field had to be moved, Cox said. As part of the district’s construction plan for the new immersion school, the district decided last March the track and field complex will be built on an existing practice field off Maplewood Lane, not far from the nearby tennis center.
Roger Spangler, whose home is off Maplewood Lane, said he is concerned about increased traffic and the safety of those who may walk on that road when the field is built.
“Maplewood is already a small, narrow street with no sidewalks and very little access,” he told the Rock Hill school board at its May 22 meeting. “I have grave concerns about the safety implications of those plans.”
As part of the overall plan for the new language facility, the district did extensive design studies, which included traffic access, Cox said. He said the district does not expect large volumes of traffic to the field, which will be built to middle school standards and will not look like a high school stadium.
Spangler said another concern is the lack of residents’ involvement in the decision-making process.
“The biggest issue is I know nothing of your plans,” he told the board. “There have been no communications with the neighborhood and no feedback.”
Cox said, since the field is moving from one side of the Sullivan campus to the other and replaces a field already used for a similar purpose, no zoning changes or resident involvement was required.
“We’re putting a playing field on a playing field,” he said. “We do intend to engage our neighbors when we buy a piece of land and decide to change the use of that land from what it historically has been.”
The district came just short of having another option.
Last year, the district entered negotiations with the city of Rock Hill to place the field in Cherry Park and make it a synthetic turf surface, said David Vehaun, Rock Hill city manager.
That option would have made the field a shared asset between the school district and the city, like the tennis center, Cox said.
“There were a lot of advantages to that,” he said.
However, the school district must open the language immersion academy by August 2018 and tight construction deadlines, along with safety and financial concerns, killed the proposal, Cox said. One safety concern and a district requirement was Caswell Street, which runs between Sullivan Middle School and Cherry Park, would be closed, Cox said. He said the district did not want students crossing that street to get to the field.
“We are always concerned for the safety of our students,” Cox said.
Closing a street can take months, he said. The district looked at the construction schedule for opening the new language facility and gave the city until April 30 to accept an agreement that included closing the street, Cox said.
The city would have needed to cover several costs associated with the project, including the cost to make an artificial turf field and costs associated with project design, Vehaun said. The city was willing to put in up to $550,000 for those items, but the school district could not guarantee that amount would be sufficient, he said.
“There was an inability of the city and the school district to reach an agreement that was completely satisfactory to both,” Cox said. “We worked hard to try to make this happen, but sometimes things just don’t come together.”
So, the field is going in the originally planned site off Maplewood Lane.
There was an inability of the city and the school district to reach an agreement that was completely satisfactory to both folks. We worked hard to try to make this happen, but sometimes things just don’t come together.
Tony Cox, deputy superintendent for the district.
There are some drawbacks to that location. There is no option for the tennis center to use that land for future expansion, said Rick Lee, a resident who also addressed the school board.
“Because there are so many competing needs for land to meet school and recreational needs on that campus, many people supported putting the field in Cherry Park,” Lee said. “However at the end of the day, your construction schedule was the driver of those decisions and you had to move forward.”
Chris Christopher, a member of the Rock Hill tennis community, asked the board to consider keeping the option open for building the field in Cherry Park.
“We welcome the opportunity to have our input, our labor and our work for you to help you accomplish something that would be a win-win for everyone,” he said.
Lee said government bodies need to improve a way to work together.
“As an outsider looking in, there is always a challenge it seems to get agreements between different government bodies completed,” he said.
Mychal Frost, spokesman for the Rock Hill school district, said opening the new language immersion academy by August 2018 is the priority.
“We have a great relationship with the city,” he said. But “we can’t wait any longer.”