published Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Cleveland board wants to buy site for new elementary school soon

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- City school board members say they would like to have money soon to purchase land for an elementary school.

The board's Site Committee met Wednesday for updates on securing a new elementary site, a separate offer to donate a four-story bank building to the city government by a local businessman, and the effort to find an affordable way to replace aging heat and air units at Cleveland High School's east wing.

Board members said the Bradley County and Cleveland systems face needs for more school space. But any decisions by the City Council or County Commission may be on hold until an August referendum on a proposed wheel tax. Money from the tax -- which would be assessed whenever a vehicle is registered in the county -- would go to the school systems, both of which are struggling for space.

"I applaud the County Commission for discussing the education piece of that," city schools Director Martin Ringstaff said.

Board members say they continue to like a site on North Lee Highway for the elementary school, and negotiations have been continuing with the Stuart family for a site on their Hardwick Farm. But other options still are possible.

Still, the timing for a new school is urgent, board members said, and they need to have a site ready soon.

"We need to go to the City Council and ask for money for land," board member Steve Morgan said.

And there is another concern, board member Dawn Robinson said.

"Nobody has ever answered the question, 'What if the wheel tax doesn't pass? What is plan B?'" she said.

Meanwhile, Life Care Centers of America founder Forest Preston's offer to donate the First Tennessee Bank building on Raider Drive to the city is pending.

School board members have said they are interested in the building as an administrative center, but Preston's offer was made to the city, not the school system.

"We don't want to be presumptuous," Ringstaff said.

On Cleveland High's HVAC needs, school system Energy Director Paul Ramsey said details are being gathered on installing units similar to what some schools already have. Water-source heat pumps would carry a smaller price tag than the estimated $1 million for roof-mounted units, he said.

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