published Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

Hamilton County Commission to vote today on whether to hire school architect

Hamilton County commissioners will decide today what they want to do about building a new East Brainerd Elementary School on the site of the former David Brainerd School.

The county paid $3.4 million last year for the 20-acre property on Igou Gap Road, which has two academic buildings and a gymnasium, to relieve overcrowding at East Brainerd Elementary. After the Hamilton County Board of Education received $50 million for capital projects last fall, it targeted the site for the new elementary school.

A formal vote on whether to move ahead with the first step in the process, the selection of an architect, is set for today. Commissioners will meet at 9:30 a.m. in the Hamilton County Courthouse.

Controversy arose among commissioners and school officials over whether to tear down all the buildings except the gymnasium. The academic buildings are less than a decade old, but school officials say the 17 classrooms are hundreds of square feet too small for the grades they hold.

"I think we'll just appear before commissioners and see what they want to do," said Gary Waters, who oversees school facilities.

Last week, an informal poll during an agenda session showed five of nine commissioners likely would support moving forward with choosing an architect. With input from the school system, an architect will design a plan for what to do with the site and its current buildings.

Commissioners' questions last week prompted school officials to ask local architects how much it would cost for a survey of the buildings and property to determine the best way to accommodate all of East Brainerd Elementary on the site. Waters said Tuesday that informal estimates range from $17,000 to $35,000 for a comprehensive survey.

"Basically, it would just be a physical examination of the structure itself," Waters said. "That's typically something the architect would do, but I know some of the commissioners expressed an interest in conducting an independent study."

Commissioner Tim Boyd originally voiced opposition to tearing down the buildings at David Brainerd when schools such as his grandchildrens', Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts, are "nearly falling down around them." But last Thursday he said he understands why school officials want to tear down the buildings.

Boyd, whose recently redrawn district now includes the David Brainerd site, said the buildings weren't designed for longevity.

"They look like doublewide trailers put together," he said.

Since last week's meeting, Commissioner Joe Graham, one of four commissioners who oppose tearing down the current classrooms, also toured the site.

"It made me even more confident that we need to keep that building," Graham said. "It's a beautiful facility."

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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