published Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Millions sought for Hamilton County school buildings

Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts on East Brainerd Road would be
replaced under a new school construction plan.
Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts on East Brainerd Road would be replaced under a new school construction plan.
Photo by Staff File Photo.
  • photo
    Ganns Middle Valley Elementary School is located at the intersection of Middle Valley and Thrasher Pike in Hixson.
    Photo by Staff File Photo.
    enlarge photo

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    Falling Water Elementary
    Photo by Tim Barber.
    enlarge photo

WHERE THE MONEY HAS GONE

Major Hamilton County school projects funded since 2004:

District 1

2004 - Soddy-Daisy High School - gym addition - $4.8 million

2008 - Soddy-Daisy Elementary - new school - $11.9 million

District 2

2008 - Signal Mountain Middle/High School - new school - $36 million ($10 million in private funds)

2011 - Red Bank Middle School - new school - $29 million

District 3

2009 - Hixson Middle School - new school - $22.2 million

District 4

2008 - Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences - fire code upgrades - $2.5 million

2008 - Chattanooga Middle School - fire code upgrades - $870,000

2009 - Orchard Knob Elementary - new school - $12.2 million

District 5

2004 - Dalewood Middle - an addition and fire code upgrades - $3 million

District 6

*no projects since 2000

District 7

2009 - East Hamilton Middle/High School - new school - $42.2 million

District 8

2009 - East Ridge Elementary - new school - $15.3 million

District 9

2007 - Wallace A. Smith Elementary - addition - $3.2 million

2007 - Hunter Middle School - addition - 3.7 million

2012 - Ooltewah Elementary - new school - $19.5 million

Source: Hamilton County Department of Education facilities inventory. Costs only include construction expenses.

After years of begging, pleading and petitioning county and education officials, parents of students at Ganns Middle Valley Elementary and CSLA may be able to relax. Education leaders have agreed both aged schools need replacing -- when money is available.

Ganns Middle Valley Elementary and the Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts lead a list of about $136 million in proposed school building projects, along with new buildings for one other school and additions to three others.

Along with new buildings for CSLA and Ganns, which would combine with Falling Water Elementary, the proposed projects include a new middle school in East Hamilton. Schools Superintendent Rick Smith also called for additions at Nolan and Wolftever Creek elementary schools and Sale Creek Middle-High School.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said before the Board of Education's facilities committee meeting on Tuesday that he was not going to ask county commissioners to give the school system a lump sum for all its projects. But he said he would work to make money available for needed schools.

"We in general government are responsible for building schools, and we are going to do that," Coppinger said. "And we have done that over the last several years."

The Ganns Middle Valley project, which is expected to cost up to $27 million, would replace two of the county's oldest school buildings, Smith said Tuesday. The current Ganns Middle Valley Elementary is 77 years old, and Falling Water Elementary is 102.

The proposed CSLA building was the most expensive on the list, at more than $40 million. It would be built on the site of the current school, he said. The new building would help relieve crowding at other schools in the eastern part of the county and ease a backlog of students trying to get into the popular magnet school.

"With the growth going on in the eastern part of the county, and where the school is located, I truly believe it can help us do some things with crowding," Smith said.

Gary Waters, who oversees facilities for the school system, said the higher cost is because the planned building is intended to house classes from prekindergarten through high school.

"You start talking about building a K-12 from the ground up. It will be pricey," Waters said.

But County Commissioner Tim Boyd, who represents District 8, says crowding isn't the main reason two old schools need to be replaced as soon as possible.

In an email sent to fellow commissioners and other officials Tuesday, Boyd said aged ventilation systems and moisture problems at Ganns Middle Valley Elementary and CSLA cause health risks to students and teachers.

"Both of these schools need to be replaced before we consider adding any new schools anywhere in the county," Boyd wrote. "Working and attending a school under overcrowded conditions is one thing, but working and attending schools that are environmentally unhealthy is a whole different set of factors."

The proposed East Hamilton Middle School also would cost in the $40 million range, Waters said. New construction would mean East Hamilton Middle/High would become a dedicated high school, easing expected crowding, Smith said.

Additions to Wolftever Creek and Nolan elementary schools and Sale Creek Middle/High are estimated to cost $29 million combined, according to Waters.

Wolftever Creek Elementary additions are estimated to cost $4 million, and they are needed, Smith said.

There are 446 students at the school now, but after rezoning takes effect Aug. 15, that number is estimated to reach 689, Smith said. Wolftever eventually will start taking students from Westview and Apison elementary schools.

It won't happen immediately, he said, but if all the students who are to choose Wolftever do so, "we'd have almost 700 students at that school."

Additions at Nolan Elementary are expected to cost $5 million, and those at Sale Creek Middle/High are estimated at $20 million. But Waters said the county needs to run new water and sewer lines to Sale Creek before any additions can happen.

At the close of the meeting, Smith appealed to the committee members to meet with County Commissioner Warren Mackey, who leads the commission's education committee.

"I think we are all interested in that," school board Chairman Mike Evatt responded.

A meeting would break a period of silence between the school board and the commission.

Mackey said Wednesday he is "looking forward to hearing what the facilities committee has to report" and said he has already heard from a few board members. Mackey was not at Tuesday's meeting, but said Wednesday he wished he had been invited by school board members.

But he's interested in asking questions about why no schools in the urban core -- Districts 4, 5 and 8 -- are included on the list.

"It would be impossible for me to ask people in my district to put their money in the tax basket and not get their fair share out of that basket," he said. "We are not going to try to tell the school board what to do, but at some level they have to show a lot more sensitivity to people in the urban core."

Mackey said some schools need replacing, but as long as the county has excess space, he would like to see more money spent on instruction.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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