published Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Bradley County officials tour schools

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    Staff Photo by Randall Higgins/Chattanooga Times Free Press Some Bradley County, Tenn., commissioners and school board members tour Lake Forest Middle School and Walker Valley High School Wednesday to look at immediate building needs.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Some Bradley County commissioners and school board members took a field trip Wednesday to look at what school officials say are the most immediate maintenance needs at a middle school and a high school.

At Lake Forest Middle School, the group discussed how the campus, with 18 buildings, has about $6 million in immediate needs. Among them is a heating and air conditioning system with some parts dating back to 1976, when the school opened.

With the school built on a design for more tropical climates, Lake Forest students spend a lot of time walking under awnings to get from one building to another. Some buildings have no restrooms.

"It was kind of a Florida/California concept," Principal Ritchie Stevenson said.

He attended the school as a student when it was a middle/elementary school and had a different name.

At 68 acres, Lake Forest is Bradley County's second-largest school campus. Its energy bill is about $25,000 a month, one of the highest-cost schools in the county system, energy director Johnny Mull said.

After 35 years, "the [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] system has done its due, to say the least," he said.

Adding an academic building for about $5 million could solve many of the cost and security problems at Lake Forest, the group was told.

Bradley County Board of Education Chairman Troy Weathers said county commissioners will be getting a letter that outlines both options.

"But whatever we do here at Lake Forest does not replace the need for a third middle school at all," he said.

The group then toured Walker Valley High School, now overcrowded after its first 10 years.

The high school was built for 1,200 students with a core service area, including a cafeteria and media center, for 1,400 students. Principal Danny Coggin said 1,500 students now attend Walker Valley.

An eight-classroom addition would allow the school to reclaim space that was devoted to laboratories before it was refitted as classrooms, the group was told.

"It's time for us to talk about expansion," Coggin said.

A wing with eight classrooms would cost about $2 million. Adding a 16-classroom unit, which school officials say would better meet the needs, would cost about $5 million.

The eight-room expansion "just gets you back to the original plan," Commissioner Jeff Morelock said.

about Randall Higgins...

Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...

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