The clock is running out if a new East Brainerd Elementary School is to be designed, built and opened by fall of 2014.
At a facilities work session and a specially called school board meeting, school district officials said the new school won't open on time if work doesn't begin within a month.
"If we're going to try to make an August 2014 date, then we've got three to four weeks to make that decision or you need to start making a contingency plan," Assistant Superintendent Gary Waters told the board.
The architect selection process is being held up by the Hamilton County Commission, which with the school board jointly approves architects on new building projects.
But school board members are hoping a set of documents discussed Thursday night will help them get back on the same page as the commission and get the project under way.
The board agreed to send Phase I of the schools three-part facilities plan to the commission for formal approval. In tying up the East Brainerd process, commissioners complained that the board hadn't shared its entire building plan with the county, though school board chairman Mike Evatt said commissioners have seen the plan in the past.
"We're at a point right now where we need to move forward. We need to improve our relationships with our commissioners," he said at the end of the meeting.
The board voted to offer two drafts of a new interlocal agreement to the County Commission. The agreement calls for setting aside all funds from the sale of surplus property into a special subaccount, which the commission would then reallocate back to the school system "for the improvement and maintenance of school properties."
Schools officials said they already set aside funds from property sales to reinvest in capital projects, but some commissioners said they wanted assurance that those funds wouldn't be used for operational expenses.
With the new agreement, the school board would still control which properties are deemed surplus, and language says the commission "will not unreasonably deny any requested appropriation," from the capital subaccount.
The issue of building ownership separates the two drafts of the agreement. Some commissioners say new schools should be titled in the county's name, because the commission funds the projects. School board attorney Scott Bennett said titling makes little functional difference for the school district, which already has a mix of school and county-titled buildings.
But it may be in the county's best interest to be left off of school deeds. Bennett said a legal argument could be made that both the county and the school system are liable for properties that have joint titles. That would allow a plaintiff to sue both agencies, doubling the maximum liability. Currently, the county isn't liable for buildings deeded to the school system, he said.
"Just by putting Hamilton County government on the title, I have doubled the exposure to county taxpayer," Bennett said.
The board voted 6-2 to send both drafts of the agreement to the County Commission, allowing that body to choose whether it wants to be titled on new schools. Board members Greg Martin and George Ricks voted against the measure, while Jonathan Welch was absent.