Bradley County panel seeks funds for school needs

Bradley County panel seeks funds for school needs

March 21st, 2013 by Paul Leach in Local Regional News

Lake Forest Middle School students change classes in the afternoon. While many walkways are covered between pod buildings on the campus, faculty members said several metal overhangs are prone to leaking during wet weather.

Photo by Paul Leach /Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Bradley County is expected to form a special committee to address funding options for a requested $14 million in renovations to Lake Forest Middle School and a recurring $750,000 technology budget to replace outdated school computers.

On Wednesday, the Bradley County Finance Committee voted 3-2 to request that County Commission Chairman Louie Alford appoint the ad hoc panel, which will be comprised of county commissioners, school officials and a representative of the Bradley County mayor's office.

The group has been tasked with presenting funding options to the Finance Committee by early May.

Commissioner Mel Griffith recommended a July deadline, saying the May deadline could interfere with the workload of the annual budgeting process. He was joined in opposing the May deadline by Finance Committee Chairman Ed Elkins. Commissioners Adam Lowe, Jeff Morelock and Bill Ledford carried the vote in favor of the proposed deadline.

"Please remember that Lake Forest was in bad shape two years ago," said Bradley school board member Christy Critchfield, who attended the meeting with fellow board member Troy Weathers. "So every day that you wait is more money we are going to put into Lake Forest because my child is there and the children of the constituents of the 6th and 4th Districts are there. We will take care of that school at a cost to the taxpayer."

"We're looking for every excuse we can to keep kicking the can down the road some more - every excuse we can think of," Morelock said.

The makeover proposed for Lake Forest Middle entails replacing many of its 17 classroom pods - which were built in 1976 and are spread across a 75-acre campus - with a large academic building. Centralizing the air conditioning and other utility needs is expected to significantly reduce energy expenses for the school and keep students out of rough weather when changing classes.

Cleveland City Schools stands to gain $7 million if the Lake Forest project is funded. According to an agreement between the county and city school systems that is based on student populations, Cleveland City Schools receives $1 for every $2 that Bradley County Schools receives. Cleveland's share could offset costs associated with a proposed city elementary school site on Georgetown Road.

Officials estimated it will cost about $2.3 million in annual debt service to borrow the $21 million needed for the Lake Forest Middle School renovations, the recurring technology refresh and the Cleveland City Schools' share.

Funding scenarios and timelines should leave nothing unconsidered, Lowe said.

"I want to build a school there; I want to get that fixed," he said. "I have really no strong preference other than doing everything we can to avoid raising taxes."