Columbia, SC (WLTX) — The Chapin High School student body president and several residents have asked the courts to stop a school board member from delaying building and improvements at the high school.

Kim Murphy, the board member named in the suit, has filed two separate appeals on DHEC approvals of the construction site in the courts. Murphy says construction of the new athletic fields are wetlands.

But some say it’s time to start building.

“I love Chapin High School. It’s near and dear to my heart. I guess the best part about Chapin High School is the staff. We have excellent teachers,” says Student Body President, Maggie Stroud.

But there are also parts of her school she isn’t too fond of. “We currently have 1,311 students at Chapin High School. But the building capacity is 1065,” she explains.

Stroud says the extra space needed comes from 23 portable units. She adds, “It’s just not safe. It’s outdated, it’s overcrowded, it’s miserable.”

Although voters said yes to millions of dollars in improvements back in 2008, no construction has started. It’s tied up in the courts.

“The problem is if you allow any governing body, if they don’t get their way, then file appeals based on the process, to slow the process down, that’s problematic,” explains attorney Todd Ellis.

Ellis is representing Stroud in the lawsuit, saying Murphy doesn’t have the right to use the courts to get appeal a decision made by the people. “It would simply create chaos, because everyone who lost – even though it was voted in the means it was supposed to be done and it was constitutionally voted – someone would take steps to stop that process,” Ellis explains.

Murphy sent News19 a statement, part of which was released two weeks ago, before the suit:

“This lawsuit is itself frivolous and an abuse of the legal system. A simple review of the published administrative law court record would have established that my legal standing and right to invoke the environmental appeal process has been conclusively established by a ruling in my favor by the judge on this very issue.

Also, let me add that their assertion that I used this DHEC appeal to boost my campaign for school board is untrue; it just happens to have boosted my school board campaign, as it’s pretty much common sense not to build ball fields over wetlands property when there are other perfectly suitable locations onsite – including a seven-acre parcel the district just purchased adjacent to the school.

Filing a lawsuit and quickly leaking it to the media is a time-honored tactic, but one I find questionable; therefore, I’d prefer not to appear on camera to give this story any undue legitimacy.”

The statement goes on to say:

“By all measures, our school district is a beacon of excellence. Our students, parents, teachers and supportive business community consistently make us proud.

Too often however, rather than engaging in civil discussion about the serious issues facing the Chapin-Irmo community, the adults in District 5 resort to insults, mud-slinging, even intimidation. That’s a shame.

In June 2010, even before I had a seat on the school board, I received an ominous phone call from a leader of the District 5’s 2008 bond referendum campaign threatening that a lawsuit would be orchestrated against me if I continued to question the ill-advised construction of ball fields on wetlands property.* Even worse, the caller said the purpose of the lawsuit would simply be to cause me to spend money to participate in the citizen appeal process.

That’s right – the caller said the lawsuit would be orchestrated simply to intimidate me and cause me to spend money. Fortunately, I made an audio recording of the phone call.

Although I will always be proud of my school district, it made me realize that there’s much left to be desired in the way we treat each other and the way we deliberate on important issues. Imagine the chilling effect it would have on citizen-participation if citizens thought they’d be threatened with a lawsuit for speaking out, for questioning their public officials’ decisions, or for engaging in the appeals process granted to citizens under the law.

There are many more examples I can point to here in District 5 where intimidation and criticism have superseded reasonable, thoughtful consideration of the issues. We deserve much better, and if we are ever to truly move forward as a school district, perhaps a good start would be to step back and do some soul-searching about how we debate important issues.

The health of any school system rests on the ability of stakeholders – parents, taxpayers, faculty members and businesses – to deliberate on their school system’s future without being attacked and without fear of intimidation or retribution.”