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Schools: Birds protected, charter moves ahead with Prince George plans

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Coastal Montessori Charter School should consider changing its mascot from the Wave to the Woodpecker, said Laura Lee, a charter board member.

“This will be our chant,” said Rob Horvath, the board chairman, who tapped his finger rapidly on the table.

If it makes the change, the school colors will be black and white with a small flash of red worn on the side of the head. Those are the markings of the red cockaded woodpecker, an endangered species that lives in two colonies on a 109-acre portion of the Prince George tract west of Highway 17 where the school wants to build its permanent home.

The school last week received approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that will allow it to build on 10 acres bordered by the woodpeckers’ habitat. The letter was the last piece of the package the school board needed to seek approval for a $5.5 million federal loan that will allow it to buy the property from the USC Development foundation and build a school. It was delayed by the federal government shutdown in October and by concerns that the school’s plan to protect the habitat would be challenged by a group that is objecting to the foundation’s plans to sell the balance of its property on the east side of Highway 17.

Kristin Bohan, a board member and the charter school’s founder, said Fish and Wildlife approved the school’s plan to locate between the two woodpecker nesting areas, which overlap. That means the school can be built between the highway and an archaeological site that will also be protected. If the agency hadn’t signed off on the plan, the school would have had to do additional environmental studies and move farther from the highway, driving up construction costs.

“We will have to manage the foraging circles around the nests,” Bohan said. That work will be done by an outside firm.

The school’s loan documents have now been forwarded from the local office of the Federal Rural Development Agency, part of the Department of Agriculture, to the state office. The next step is a document that says the school is eligible to apply for the loan, Bohan said.

She hopes to have the actual loan application to the USDA in Washington by the end of the year. The school has already decided it will ask the Georgetown County School Board to allow it to remain for another year in the wing at Waccamaw Middle School where it opened in 2012. The school originally planned to move in 2014.

While awaiting the Fish and Wildlife approval, the school held a week-long capital campaign. It raised $132,500. Aside from the money, the campaign was intended to show that there is community support for the new school.

Bohan said over half the donors were ones with no direct connection to the school.

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