published Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

Bradley tweaks priority list for schools

Bradley County's Blue Springs Elementary School was hard hit by the April 27 tornadoes.
Bradley County's Blue Springs Elementary School was hard hit by the April 27 tornadoes.
Photo by Randall Higgins.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Bradley County Schools’ building needs haven’t changed much, even after the April 27 tornadoes, school officials say.

But now the priority list includes a new Blue Springs Elementary School building, too.

Schools Director Johnny McDaniel and school board Chairman Troy Weathers met Monday with the County Commission’s Finance Committee to review the education priorities list.

“Our priorities are still Lake Forest and Walker Valley,” Weathers told the committee.

At Lake Forest Middle School, the school board’s consensus seems to lean toward a new academic building to replace most of the cluster of leaking, aging, small buildings across the campus, McDaniel said. But the school system still must address the major leaks, he said, a costly project to keep the space available for children in the meantime.

At Walker Valley High School, the board wants to extend the academic wings to create more classrooms at the crowded school.

At Blue Springs, the board plans to use insurance money from the demolished school to buy land for its replacement. Weathers said the insurance settlement looks like it will be less than $1 million.

“Their position will always be, ‘What’s the cheapest way out?’” Weathers said. “That’s their call.”

But the insurance money should strictly be for Blue Springs’ future, he said, and no other project.

In the meantime, McDaniel said, the school board has approved a plan that creates classroom space at other schools for Blue Springs’ 230 students.

County Commissioner Jeff Morelock summed up the schools’ request as $6 million for Lake Forest repairs, $2 million for Walker Valley and two tracts of land for future elementary schools for an $8.4 million total.

A new Lake Forest academic building, instead of funding repairs, Morelock said, would mean raising $22 million, including the one-third the county must always provide for the city school system when raising capital projects funds.

Morelock and Commissioner Ed Elkins said that amount would require about a 20 cent property tax increase.

“I guess the reluctance to pull the trigger on this is the dark veil over what our future looks like on finances,” Elkins said. “We have been struggling with next year’s budget, and I see risk in there. We are digging ourselves into a hole with some of the strategies being put on the table.”

Morelock’s motion to recommend a new Lake Forest building, expansion at Walker Valley and one tract of land failed to get a second at the meeting and was left without a vote in the Finance Committee.

Even without a committee recommendation, Morelock can put his motion to a vote before the full commission at its Monday meeting.

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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