By Barney Blakeney
For some residents of James Island, Charleston County School Board’s approval to relocate a school bus depot from Fort Johnson Road to Grimball Road just doesn’t make sense. The depot already exists in one residential neighborhood where it’s unwanted. The board voted to move it to another residential neighborhood where it’s also unwanted. Folks won’t go on record saying it, but some residents are saying the primary factor may be race.
After months of discussion, the board June 26 voted to move the bus depot that has been located on Camp Road about seven years, to a new location at the former Gresham Meggett school site on Grimball Road. The school district wants to combine James Island Middle and Fort Johnson Middle schools. Both are located on Camp Road. The new school will be at the Fort Johnson site. The district says it needs the space currently occupied by the bus depot for that construction.
Moving the buses from the racially diverse Fort Johnson Road community to the traditional Black Grimball Road community stirs some resentment among many on James Island. But putting the new depot at Gresham Meggett in unacceptable, they recoiled. The school built in 1952 under the schools equalization program that sought to circumvent public school integration represents a cultural icon to Blacks who grew up in the segregated isolation of James Island during the Jim Crow era. It’s been used for various purposes since the last high school class graduated in 1970. Currently residents are exploring options to use the facility as a community resource.
Cheryl Cromwell who lives across the street from the Meggett site said school officials seem insensitive to the adverse effects of locating an industrial facility in the midst of a community of aging Black residents where many still rely on wells for their drinking water. The fumes from the exhaust and increased traffic congestion alone should be enough to make school officials cautious. The contamination from fuel tanks and runoff should be enough to convince them to halt the project, she said. And as James Island continues to experience gentrification, the bus depot will affect property values. As that growth continues the number of buses parked at the depot likely also will grow, she added. “This makes no sense,” she said.
County school board member Michael Miller opposed the relocation. None of the issues raised by district officials – transport time for drivers and students especially – justify the decision, he said. “I can’t see why we did it,” Miller exclaimed in wonder. According to a recent study, students on James Island lost about 75 hours instruction time compared to 3,000 lost hours of instruction time for students in North Charleston where the district’s largest bus depot is located, he said. He said moving the lot from Fort Johnson Road to Grimball Road is a slap in the face to those residents. But he doesn’t know that the board will reconsider.
Rev. Dr. David Wallace, pastor of Saint James Presbyterian Church on James Island said the relocation process may take as long as 18 months while school district officials get the permits needed. “We’re going to be at the table,” Wallace vowed. “The board should know that when they make a decision that’s opposed by such a majority of residents, we’ll take note of it and we’ll meet them at the polls.” Cromwell added, “We’re not going down without a fight!”