published Friday, January 29th, 2010

East Hamilton County schools overcrowded, officials say


by Kelli Gauthier

by Matt Wilson
Audio clip

Commissioin meeting

Built to alleviate overcrowding in Ooltewah schools, the new East Hamilton School is poised to be overcapacity in its second year of existence.

Between the private David Brainerd Christian School closing and Volkswagen coming to town in East Hamilton's area, the public middle-high school opened with nearly 1,600 students, and it continues to grow.

As East Hamilton adds a senior class next year, administrators expect the school to be more than 200 students over its 1,650-student capacity.

"We've got an immediate problem and it has to be solved," said Hamilton County Board of Education member Linda Mosley, who represents the school's district.

In addition to the crowding at East Hamilton, elementary schools in the area, including Westview, Apison and East Brainerd, also are overcrowded. At least one entire grade level at Westview is in portable classrooms, and Hamilton County commissioners and board members this week have been talking about what to do.

"We're going to be asked to fund some major, major construction," said Commissioner Warren Mackey at Thursday's commission meeting. "If we started building schools right now, we'd still be behind."

Dr. Mackey asked the school board to have close communication with the commission about building needs as the county continues to grow.

At their recent retreat, school board members discussed a plan to build a new elementary and a middle school in the East Brainerd area, as well as expand Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts from a K-8 to a K-12 school.

EAST HAMILTON SCHOOL

Current enrollment: 1,550

Capacity: 1,650

Expected enrollment next year: 1,890

WESTVIEW ELEMENTARY

Current enrollment: 762

Capacity: 665

APISON ELEMENTARY

Current enrollment: 624

Capacity: 600

EAST BRAINERD ELEMENTARY

Current enrollment: 635

Capacity: 699

In the meantime, Ms. Mosley said, something must be done before the next school year.

"Rezoning has been thrown around as an option," she said. "I really don't want to see us put portables up at schools, but that's been brought up as an option, too."

The Hamilton County school system now uses more than 150 portable classrooms, and many of them are more than 30 years old, board Chairman Kenny Smith said.

There is room on Westview's property to build about 10 new classrooms, Ms. Mosley said.

"I don't know how quickly we could accomplish that, but 10 classrooms would help relieve the overcrowding quite a bit," she said.

At the commission meeting Thursday, Gary Waters, the school system's assistant superintendent for auxiliary services, said he would be presenting the school board with options in the next few weeks.

Commissioner Larry Henry pointed out that the enrollment at Ooltewah Middle and High have dropped since East Hamilton opened. He asked Mr. Waters if some students going to East Hamilton could be rezoned to Ooltewah High School.

Mr. Waters said it would be "premature" to say that.

Deputy School Superintendent Rick Smith, who is in charge of zoning, said administrators would look at all options, including sending students back to the Ooltewah schools.

"These current zoning patterns are good, but they're not as good as they could be," he said.

Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gauthierkelli

about Kelli Gauthier...

Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...

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