published Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Hamilton County school board eyes building priorities

Classroom buildings are beginning to take shape on the new Ooltewah Elementary School.
Classroom buildings are beginning to take shape on the new Ooltewah Elementary School.
Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
IN THE WORKS

Here are the projects under design or construction and their planned opening date:

• Red Bank Middle, August 2013

• Ooltewah Elementary, August 2013

• East Brainerd Elementary, August 2014

Hamilton County Schools should move from reactive to proactive when coping with population growth across the county, school officials said Tuesday.

Though recent school construction projects have tended to respond to problems like overcrowding after or while they're emerging, school leaders say they now want to get ahead of such issues before they grow out of hand.

"It's much too important to let this wait until the last minute," said Gary Waters, assistant superintendent for auxiliary services. "We tend to be too reactive."

The school board's facilities committee met Tuesday to hear an update on construction projects and to start the conversation about what projects should come next. Waters urged the committee to create a long-term, comprehensive plan for both new construction and the upkeep of the school system's current stock of buildings.

The school board has a working facilities plan that includes more than $200 million in new schools, renovations and additions. But officials said Tuesday it's time to start setting priorities.

Several board members agreed that additions at Nolan Elementary and Wolftever Creek Elementary should be on the top of the school district's to-do list.

And while the original plan called for an addition at Sale Creek Middle-High, board members are now considering an entirely new school. The current site is landlocked, has no sewer access and doesn't have space for football or soccer fields. Nearly all middle school students attend classes in portable trailers.

The school district owns more than 120 acres of land adjacent to North Hamilton County Elementary, where a new high school or middle-high school could be built. Superintendent Rick Smith said he believes that's currently the best option.

But if the board decided to build a new building entirely, it would put the project behind even further, as the cost of a new high school or middle-high school far exceeds that of the projected $10.5 million addition.

Officials said they think they can put off an addition and renovation at Snow Hill Elementary, which was planned to take in students from Birchwood Elementary after it closes in the spring. Now, Smith said, those students will go to Ooltewah Elementary.

Other projects high on the list include a new school to replace the current Ganns Middle Valley Elementary and Falling Water Elementary, a long-awaited replacement of the Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts and a new elementary school that will replace Harrison and Hillcrest elementaries.

On phase three of the board's plan is a new middle school in the Apison area, projected to cost nearly $40 million. But Smith said that project shouldn't be buried. The school system is adding two 1,100-capacity schools with Ooltewah Elementary and East Brainerd Elementary.

But Smith said those students will eventually work up into middle and high school. And East Hamilton Middle-High has already been rezoned because of its overcrowding problems.

"I'd like to see us stay ahead of the growth," said school board Chairman Mike Evatt.

School board member Rhonda Thurman said she'd like the board to consider better utilizing some schools that are below capacity, such as Tyner Middle Academy and Tyner High.

"We need to talk about some of the buildings we already have if there's so much growth," she said. "They are right there in that area and they are already built."

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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