By PAUL A. BARRA
DANIEL ISLAND — If diocesan officials anticipated resistance from any one group to the new Bishop England High School, they thought it might come from older alumni. After all, they have the longest and richest tradition, and all of it was formed at the present downtown Charleston site. Some of the Class of ’48, for instance, have had children and grandchildren follow them down the hallowed halls at Calhoun Street.
So when that very class toured the new Daniel Island facility as part of their 50th reunion last weekend, interest was keen in their opinions.
“Our classes were small and the school always had a high reputation,” said Charles Meitzler. “In fact, we could go over into the College of Charleston by reputation alone. No SAT or any of that stuff. But this place is so much superior to the old one that I favor the move.”
Members of Meitzler’s graduating class agreed with him. They were clearly impressed by the centrally located chapel, complete with confessionals, neither of which are available at all at the old school; they loved the spaciousness of the new site, the technologically advanced design of the buildings and the move to a high-growth area of Charleston.
David Held, BEHS associate principal, said that he was overwhelmed by the support the new school has received from its graduates.
“It’s amazing how many alums have been supportive of the move, interesting when you consider that they have so many ties to downtown,” Held said. “They appreciate that we’ve run out of options down there. They know this is the best thing for the kids.”
They also know that the diocese made an astute move to an area that is growing in size and in status. Dozens of large homes are already visible from the front entrance of the school and such signs of progress as earth movers and construction equipment growl along the country roads of the island and the nearby interstate highway. Houses and businesses are being built, rough rural shoulders have been landscaped and the topography of the flat land is being transformed by trees and flowers.
“This will be a prestigious area to live in and no other place had this much land,” said Fritz Cotten, Class of ’48.
He said that the possibilities for BEHS students’ activities are enhanced at the new campus. The old school would fit into one wing of the new place, Cotten said.
One of his former classmates who knows a lot about student activities is John Latorre, head coach at Bishop England from 1955-1958. He remembered practicing at Memminger Auditorium with his basketball teams, playing football at old Harmon Field — and never having the homecourt advantage in any sport. He was visibly moved by the 1,700-seat, double-tiered gymnasium at Daniel Island and the football stadium. But other aspects of the new diocesan high school touched him even more. “This is an excellent move for the diocese. I am very impressed, especially with the size of the classrooms. It’s a first class job,” Latorre said. Pat Rowland said that the BE students who will move to the new campus in August will love the acres of parking and the state-of-the-art facilities. She looked at the work still to be done on the school and said: “It’s going to be worth every effort.”
Held said that the Bishop England staff is in the process of packing and labeling now. They will begin moving furniture to Daniel Island by the end of June and will hold summer prep sessions on their new campus. Among the many new experiences at the island school, traditions will continue with a continuity of faculty and staff. Held said that he expects little personnel turnover, and although the school administration has more than enough applications on hand to fill the new classrooms with students, he said that Bishop England High School will move slowly in increasing from the current student population of 824 to its new capacity of 1,000.
That sort of attitude appealed to the BE alumni visiting the new campus in their 50th anniversary year. They have taken the pride in their Bishop England heritage, according to diocesan Secretary of Education and Evangelization Gay Rowzie, and transferred it to a sense of pride in the evolving traditions of the historic school.