Approval for new Fort Mill school plans held up by dispute

joverman@fortmilltimes.comNovember 15, 2013 

— The Fort Mill School District threatened the town of Fort Mill with legal action last week after being told plan approval for the new Riverview Elementary School was “on hold,” according to a letter sent from the district’s lawyer to Town Manager Dennis Pieper.

On Nov. 5, a district consultant emailed Fort Mill Assistant Engineering Director Zheng Zheng Wiley asking if the plans were ready to pick up. Wiley, making reference to an earlier dispute, responded, “The plan approval is on hold pending resolution of the waterline (sic) relocation.”

The town and the school district have been in talks concerning a town-owned water line at the site of the new Riverview Elementary School along Spratt Street. They disagree on which entity is responsible for removing the line, district officials said.

The plan approval for the site should not have been affected by the water line issue, School Board Chairman Patrick White said.

“I don’t know any way to take it other than we have now married those two issues,” White said.

Concerns arose at the school district because “we didn’t have time to waste,” White said.

A letter from the school district’s attorney to Pieper warned that, “To withhold the necessary permit to which the school district by law is entitled exposes the town to serious legal consequences.”

Construction on the new Riverview Elementary School has been accelerated in an effort to open it in December 2014. Delay could put that timeline at risk, White said.

The school district’s lawyer sent the letter to the town on Nov. 7, stating that “resolution of the waterline location will come very soon, at the town’s sole expense, and that any further delay in withholding approval of the Project’s plans by the town will greatly damage the School District and its students, for which the School District will hold the Town legally responsible.”

The plans were released to the town Nov. 11, according to district officials.

Pieper said the plans for Riverview “were never held up.”

The intention was only to put a note on the plans, he added.

“It was a miscommunication on their part,” he said. “The email from our employee just said we needed to resolve that but as soon as we discussed it, it was resolved.”

The water line issue has not been resolved, however. The cost of moving it is estimated from $80,000 and $100,000, officials said.

After researching the issue, the district’s lawyer determined that the town is responsible for the removal of the water line because it lies in an abandoned right-of-way, for which SCDOT has given “quick deed” to the school district. The quick deed is expected to be delivered to the district in the next two weeks, according to the letter.

“At that time, we will present to the Town (sic) a copy of the quick deed, which will be evidence that the Town no longer has permission to locate and maintain the waterline within the Abandoned Right-of-Way (sic) and that it must take immediate steps to remove the waterline at its sole expense, working with the school district to insure that such removal activities will not interfere with the project construction,” states the letter, obtained by the Fort Mill Times through a Freedom of Information request.

District spokeswoman Kelly McKinney said the district hopes to continue discussions with the town in an effort to have the water line issue resolved.

“We feel very strongly that it is something the town has responsibility for but going forward we’re just hoping we don’t have to go to any type of legal action. Let’s just sit down and talk about resolving this,” she said.

Pieper agreed that discussions would continue. Questions still need to be answered, he said, including whether the entire line needs to be moved.

“I plan on meeting with the school district and seeing what really needs to be done,” he said. “I want to see exactly what’s in their way and what’s not.”

Pieper insists that the relationship between the town and the school district is not adversarial.

“We work well with them and it’s just a matter of communicating,” he said. “We weren’t holding their plans up. It’s just a matter of communication.”

White said that although he has not gotten an explanation from town officials about why the plans were “on hold,” he is pleased construction can move forward without delay.

“We’re not going to dwell on it. Whatever reason there was for a delay, I don’t want to belabor that. I’m just glad we’ve got it and are moving forward,” White said.

Construction on the new Riverview has not been delayed and can continue while the water line issue is being resolved, officials said.

“We are pleased to have the plans so we may move forward with the construction of the new Riverview Elementary School. We look forward to resolving the water line issue,” Superintendent of Schools Chuck Epps said.

The Fort Mill Times received copies of communications between the town and the district through a Freedom of Information Act request filed on Nov. 8 with both the town and the school district. The school district responded with documents, including the letter sent from their lawyer to Pieper, as well as several emails between district officials and town employees.

The town has not yet responded to the request, but state law allows municipalities 15 days from the filing date to respond.

Jenny Overman •  803-547-2353

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