published Thursday, April 4th, 2013

Lake Forest Middle School panel to be appointed

Lake Forest Middle School needs some work in Cleveland, Tenn.
Lake Forest Middle School needs some work in Cleveland, Tenn.
Photo by Jenna Walker.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — A special committee to explore how to pay for a proposed $14 million makeover for Lake Forest Middle School will be appointed Monday by Bradley County Commission Chairman Louie Alford.

The panel is expected to include education officials, county commissioners and a representative of the county mayor's office, according to recent Bradley finance committee discussions. The number of panel members has not been determined, said Lorri Moultrie, the commission's administrative assistant.

Commissioners agreed earlier this week to form the committee. It's hoped the panel can make recommendations by May 1, but that's a soft deadline, officials said.

The proposed Lake Forest Middle renovation entails replacing many of its 17 classroom pods -- built in 1976 and spread over a 75-acre campus -- with a centralized academic building. A new building would slash air-conditioning and maintenance costs and protect students from bad weather while changing classes.

It took three rounds of voting to agree on the deadline. Commissioners split over whether recommendations should come during or after the budget is prepared for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Bradley County Schools officials want results as soon as possible, said Commissioner Adam Lowe. He said the school board reported that pending insurance money from storm-devastated Blue Springs Elementary hangs in the balance. Getting recommendations after the 2013-14 budget is approved could delay the renovations for another year, he said.

But others said it's poor timing to set the committee to work during budget season. Some commissioners questioned the motive of an early deadline.

"This is an April Fool's trick to try to promote a tax increase," said Commissioner Mel Griffith.

Given that the committee will have only a month to formulate funding scenarios, Griffith said he thinks it will see a property tax increase as the only option.

Commissioner Ed Elkins said that in light of the county's long-range financial plan, the Lake Forest project can't be funded without a tax increase before 2016.

Lowe said that, with some hard decisions, the money could be found without raising property taxes.

"Could I be wrong?" asked Lowe. "Absolutely, because I am one of 14 [commissioners] and I can't make a hard decision on my own, and it takes eight of us to make hard decisions when it comes to the budget."

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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