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Thursday drop-in regarding new Amicks Ferry school an attempt to educate public about building plans

Chapin, SC (Paul Kirby) – Interested residents of Chapin and the surrounding community wandered in and out of the Center for Advanced Technical Studies Thursday evening to learn more about Lexington/Richland School District Five’s plans for a new elementary school slated to break ground this year. Few residents from the area between the Newberry County line to east of the White Rock community can deny any knowledge of the project. Most who attended just wanted to know more about the details and see photographs and videos to better visualize what’s to come. Thursday was their opportunity to gain a bit more of that knowledge as district administrators and some elected officials tried to explain what the community would eventually see rise from the red, rocky soil in the drop-in format.

There’s no doubt that as the area continues to grow, there a need for more classroom space. The district has already frozen enrollment at several schools and just this week announced they would also freeze enrollment at Chapin Elementary School. This means that people who build in what’s now Chapin Elementary’s attendance area, would have their children bused to schools with extra capacity east toward the Irmo area. Now, a resident who just built on one side of a street in a subdivision could have their elementary age child go to a school further down the road, while the child of the family on the opposite side of the street that’s the exact same age but has lived there for several years, would stay at Chapin Elementary. While few disagree with the need for more classrooms, many disagree with how to gain that space.

Vocal Chapin community activist Kim Murphy, who once served on the district’s board herself, has long said that LR-5 just likes to build new buildings without fully thinking about their current inventory, or how its existing schools can be expanded where they are. Others have advocated moving attendance lines as people move further to the north and west in the district. One of the biggest points of contention regarding building the new school in Chapin is where the land was purchased for its construction. That land is out rural Amicks Ferry Road near Lake Tide Drive near what’s been known for years simply as the Chicken Farm curve. That moniker was earned by a sharp curve in the two-lane road where rows of operating chicken houses once were active. Many are still standing today across the road, but are overgrown or in a state of picturesque decay. This area is on a peninsula with one way in, one way out access.

Access to the new two-story, 750 student school will be a major challenge. The district has added money in its construction budget for road improvements. These would include some road widening, some turn lanes onto the property, and deceleration and acceleration lanes to help motorists slow down from or get up to speed as they go to and off the school’s parcel from Amicks Ferry Road. All of that still doesn’t change several other major problems.

One of those stumbling blocks is the fact that Amicks Ferry Road is still a mostly rural or residential road from Chapin Road to the new school’s property. It has almost no shoulders and widening the entire route would cost someone big. Many times during the day it struggles to handle the commuters it already does accommodate. Adding more parents and slow-moving school buses on it will certainly have some negative impact.

The other issue is the town of Chapin itself. It’s already congested and most of the day traffic is at a standstill, or at best moving slowly throughout its borders. Although there’s a Chapin bypass or loop in the planning phases that should help some, it will do little to ease pressure once traffic loops the town and ends up on Amicks Ferry. Even if that project is completed in the next decade, the choke point at Chapin Road and Amicks Ferry will certainly get even worse when the school opens. Many have continually asked why buy and build on Amicks Ferry Road when the district already owned a tract of land closer to White Rock that was to have an elementary school built on it some time ago. Last fall, school board member Jan Hammond said she hadn’t ever really received a satisfactory answer to that question. While traffic stays at a standstill at the light at Chapin Road and Amicks Ferry over and over during a typical day, those waits at that intersection are bound to get longer as the new school traffic increases. There doesn’t seem that there’s much anyone will be able to do about that in the short term.

Although the district said that yesterday’s meeting was to hear the community’s ideas, concerns, and answer questions they might have regarding the Amicks Ferry Road school, it appears as if work will begin on it in 2019 no matter the neighbors’ feeling. Anyone who lives in that area or has a business that depends on Amicks Ferry Road for access, had better start making plans now for the influx of traffic that will come once the new school is open.

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Call Paul Kirby

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