published Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

Site likely picked for new East Brainerd Elementary School

The buildings and property at the former David Brainerd School, bought last year by Hamilton County, have driven a wedge between county commissioners and the school board for more than a year.

School board Chairman Mike Evatt said Monday that the school's 17 classrooms on 20 acres, purchased last year for $3.4 million, likely will be replaced soon with a new East Brainerd Elementary School.

David Brainerd's academic buildings date back to 2003, county property records show, and the school system plans to preserve the gym, which was built in 2006.

Either Evatt or Superintendent Rick Smith will send a letter to the county and commission within two weeks, requesting the formation of an architectural review committee to begin the search for someone to design and build a school, Evatt said. A new school could be open as early as fall 2014.

"This has been the plan from the very beginning, and the full commission was aware of it," Evatt said.

Commissioner Fred Skillern said last week that he supported the "so-so deal" to purchase David Brainerd because he thought the expense was a reasonable one to buy 10 to 15 years of overcrowding relief. He said he didn't know the school board might vote to tear it down a year later.

His only reservation last year was "I thought we was in too big a hurry," he said.

Currently, the David Brainerd academic buildings, more than a mile from East Brainerd Elementary at 7553 Igou Gap Road, hold fourth and fifth grades. Total enrollment of the two sites is 724 students, officials said.

Evatt said the increasing population pressure and small size of the classrooms make the building's destruction the smartest use of the land.

  • photo
    Gary Waters, Hamilton County Department of Education Assistant Superintendent
    Photo by Dan McLaughlin

Assistant Superintendent Gary Waters said the 600-square-foot classrooms at David Brainerd are smaller than the 800 square feet recommended for second through fifth grades and 1,000 square feet recommended for kindergarten and first grades.

"The majority of everything we build is to that size," Waters said, pointing out that older buildings also generally conform to the current standards.

Several county commissioners question the decision.

Commissioner Tim Boyd pointed out that commissioners authorized to spend money to remodel part of the school for student use.

Boyd questioned the destruction of David Brainerd when a school like Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts has been under recommendation to be closed for more than a decade.

"My grandkids are literally going to a school that's nearly falling down around them," Boyd said of CSLA.

County Mayor Jim Coppinger said the school system was prepared to buy the David Brainerd site last year out of its own budget, but he advocated that the county government should shoulder the cost.

"That's something we wanted to do for them," he said.

Usually, the county funds capital projects for the schools and appropriates an annual budget to the school board, which decides where and how that money is spent.

Coppinger said last year that commissioners and school board members agreed on the David Brainerd site as a temporary fix.

Then last fall, the county freed an additional $50 million for school construction, creating an opportunity to address East Brainerd Elementary more quickly, Evatt said.

"The intent there primarily was to relieve some of the overcrowding in those elementary schools," Coppinger said. "My job is to make available the resources to the school system."

The first school to be built out of the $50 million will be a new Ooltewah Elementary School. Franklin Architects is designing the school, and bids are scheduled to be opened today for site improvements. The target date to open the school is fall of 2013.

"It's been a reasonable period of time, but at this point I'm anxious to move forward," Coppinger said.

Contact staff writer Ansley Haman at ahaman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6481.

about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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