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Post & Courier (Charleston, SC)
The Friday night lights might shine too bright. The roar of the crowds might be too loud.
And what if they have rock concerts in there?
These concerns and more were front and center Wednesday night as more than 100 people aired their grievances with a plan to open a new regional football stadium near Wando High School in Mount Pleasant.
Charleston County School District officials present at the meeting said they had planned to build a new stadium at the school since it opened at its current location in 2004. In 2014, Charleston County voters approved a school construction referendum that included funding for a "new shared high school stadium for East of the Cooper."
Until recently, the district's plan had been to spend $14.2 million buying land and building a state-of-the-art 6,000-state stadium just across Carolina Park Boulevard from Wando, the state's largest high school. The stadium will eventually also serve as the home field for teams at Lucy Beckham High, set to open in 2020, and another high school that will one day replace Lincoln High in Awendaw.
But after catching heat from homeowners about the plan at input meetings in March and April, Chief Operating Officer Jeff Borowy presented a second option Wednesday night: The district could put up bleachers around the current track and field facility on the Wando campus, avoiding the need to purchase new land and have crowds cross the busy neighborhood street.
Some public commenters expressed support for the new option, which would eliminate the perceived safety risk of pedestrians crossing Carolina Park Boulevard to get to the stadium.
Still, many said they don't want a regional stadium at all. The district plans to demolish the old Wando stadium, situated at the former Wando school location on Mathis Ferry Road, to make way for Beckham High.
Town Councilman Gary Santos said he believed the district could keep the old Wando stadium intact and simply upgrade it, but district officials said Wednesday that that option was off the table.
"I'll tell you right now and you can throw tomatoes at me: It's not an option not to build a regional stadium," said School Board Chair Kate Darby, a Mount Pleasant resident. Elsewhere in the county, some Park Circle residents are upset, but for precisely the opposite reason: The district has proposed that an existing stadium near North Charleston High could be demolished and replaced with a North Area regional stadium at an unspecified future site.
By a show of hands during the Wednesday meeting in a Laing Middle multipurpose room, most of the 100-plus attendees said they did not have children in the school district. The biggest contingent was concerned residents of Carolina Park, the growing neighborhood behind Wando High that is projected to add 900 new homes in coming years.
Although a master plan on the Carolina Park website includes a new football stadium, many said they had no idea when they bought their homes.
"How in the world are we going to be able to accommodate all this additional traffic?" asked Kay Milton, a three-year resident of Carolina Park. "The school board paints a rosy picture, and all we see is a dark cloud on the horizon."
Borowy was able to address a few of the public's concerns. He said any new stadium would be built with lights designed to prevent "spillover" into the neighborhood, no high school football stadium in the district has ever hosted a rock concert, and a traffic study conducted by the district found that a football game would produce less traffic than an average school day at Wando.
The crowd remained skeptical. They questioned the methodology of the traffic study, including Borowy's estimate that high school sports fans would travel four to a car. Some said Carolina Park's developer had sent an email announcing concerts would one day take place in the stadium, and they were worried about the noise and potential harm to their property value.
William Hamilton, executive director of the advocacy group Best Friends of Lowcountry Transit, raised one other objection to locating the stadium near Wando: Football games would be inaccessible by bus. CARTA Route 42 includes a stop at Wando High, but the last bus on weekdays stops there at 5:40 p.m.
"There will be hundreds of kids who can't go to those games because they can't snag a ride with their friends, they're not popular, they're not in the right place, or their parents are not comfortable with them riding in a car full of teenagers," Hamilton said.
Darby said the school board will consider the two options for the stadium in their Monday night meeting.
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