published Thursday, March 14th, 2013

Rick Smith prioritizes Hamilton County school construction projects list

Hamilton County Department of Education headquarters
Hamilton County Department of Education headquarters
Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
  • photo
    Rick Smith is the superintendent of Hamilton County Schools.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The list of proposed Hamilton County school construction projects is narrowing.

The school system maintains a rough facility plan with some $200 million in future school replacements, upgrades and additions. But Superintendent Rick Smith on Wednesday gave his recommendation for which projects need to be at the front of the line.

In no particular priority order, Smith said the most pressing projects are:

• A replacement for the Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts

• A new middle school for the East Hamilton/East Brainerd area

• A replacement for Ganns Middle Valley Elementary

• An addition at Nolan Elementary

• An addition or replacement of Sale Creek Middle-High

• An addition at Wolftever Creek Elementary

Smith said enrollment projections continue to forecast significant growth on the county's east side. Because of growth pressures, board and committee Chairman Mike Evatt said the immediate focus should be on building classrooms in the areas that are seeing the biggest population booms.

"We need to look at short-term solutions," Evatt said. "We need to look at our growth."

On Tuesday, parents hosted board members at Ganns Middle Valley Elementary to make their case for the need for a new building there. Parents and teachers said the 75-year-old building is overcrowded, outdated and is causing health problems related to dust and mold.

Parents at the K-8 magnet school CSLA petitioned the school board in January for their long-awaited replacement facility, which would expand that program to a significantly larger K-12 school.

Some of those parents also attended Wednesday's committee meeting.

The superintendent named off several school buildings that are at or approaching 80, 90 and 100 years of age. With so many antiquated facilities, the board will likely wrestle choosing among many worthy projects.

"It's going to be hard to prioritize," said County Commissioner Tim Boyd, who attended Wednesday's meeting. "The board's got a hard job ahead of them knowing there's at least half a dozen schools that have the same MO, if you will."

The county hasn't said when it will next issue new bonds for school construction. But Evatt said the board wants to put its needs on the table so when the money is on hand, commissioners will know what the school system's plans are.

"We can't just go out there and lay out $200 million in needs," Evatt said. "We need to do it in chunks."

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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