published Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Bradley County Commission OKs school project

Lake Forest Middle School students change classes. While many walkways are covered between pod buildings on the campus, several metal overhangs are prone to leaking during wet weather, said faculty members. Some walkways are not covered at all. Bradley School officials want to see a major makeover for Lake Forest, which encompasses 17 buildings on 75 acres.
Lake Forest Middle School students change classes. While many walkways are covered between pod buildings on the campus, several metal overhangs are prone to leaking during wet weather, said faculty members. Some walkways are not covered at all. Bradley School officials want to see a major makeover for Lake Forest, which encompasses 17 buildings on 75 acres.
Photo by Paul Leach.
  • photo
    Bradley County Commissioner Ed Elkins, chairman of the redistricting committee

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- The Bradley County Commission on Monday voted to provide up to $12 million in 2017 toward a proposed $14 million overhaul of Lake Forest Middle School.

Commissioners voted 13-0 for the measure introduced by Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones. The plan relies on projected revenue increases and does not include the purchase of furniture or equipment not associated with the school's technological infrastructure.

Funding will go toward construction of a 57-classroom academic building that will replace about a dozen classroom pods spread across the school's 75-acre campus. Construction of the new facility is intended to head off at least $6 million in repairs and to save energy.

Excluding items such as furniture and new computers is appropriate, Commissioner Ed Elkins said.

"Just because you build a new school building does not mean you've got to put all that new equipment in there on a 20-year bond," Elkins said. "It make no sense to me to vote a 20-year bond ... for a [computer that has a lifespan of no more than] seven years at the most."

Peak-Jones' plan was substituted for a plan recommended by an ad hoc committee asked to find funding for the project. That plan called for the county to commit up to $14 million in the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Several commissioners expressed concern over the measure but said they wanted to "get the ball rolling" on a project that has been listed as a priority by the Bradley County Board of Education for years.

Commissioner Jeff Yarber equated parts of the Peak-Jones plan with "putting old tires on a new car" and said he considered the measure to be "very close to micromanaging" what the school board does.

"For us to sit here and dictate every move they make is kind of getting where we might as well do away with the school board and just run the show ourselves," Yarber said.

An amendment to move up the funding timetable, made by Commissioner Jeff Morelock, fell one vote short of the eight it needed. Morelock's amendment called for allocating revenue that has been earmarked to increase the county's general fund balance according to the county's long-range financial plan.

Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis said he could not recommend such an action, citing an increased general fund balance as a way to secure better financial ratings and safeguard against setbacks until projected revenue increases actually occur.

Johnny McDaniel, director of Bradley County Schools, could not be reached for comment.

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

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