Lake Forest Middle School project timetable questioned

Lake Forest Middle School project timetable questioned

May 14th, 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.

Bradley County Commission Chairman Louie Alford

Bradley County Commission Chairman Louie Alford

Bradley County Commissioner Connie Wilson

Bradley County Commissioner Connie Wilson

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - A funding plan for a major overhaul of the Lake Forest Middle School failed to reach a consensus with Bradley County commissioners Monday.

Next Monday, the commission is expected to vote on a pair of resolutions by Commissioners Adam Lowe and Charlotte Peak-Jones on how and when the $14 million project should happen.

"In 48 days we are going to vote on a new budget. ... I think we need to get this year's budget settled before we worry about future budgets," said Commissioner Ed Elkins, chairman of the Finance Committee.

The proposed renovations include replacing more than half of the school's 17 classroom pod buildings with a central building as well as solving drainage and air-conditioning problems in the remaining structures. However, the $14 million price tag actually will require the county to borrow $20 million.

According to an agreement based on county and city school enrollment, Bradley County is required to raise $1 for Cleveland City Schools for every $2 it raises for the county school system.

Lowe's resolution calls for the County Commission to vote on a recommendation submitted by an ad hoc committee on funding the project. That panel recommended issuing a $20 million bond in late 2015, beginning construction of the academic building in 2016 and opening it in 2017. The plan's timing allows the county to take advantage of surplus revenues projected for 2016.

"I think that gives the school board directions that we are committing to do the project and that when funds basically become available," Bradley County Commission Chairman Louie Alford said. "We cannot borrow money right now, period."

Some commissioners expressed concern over the proposed timeline.

"It looks like, from what I understand, we're basically punting this to the next commission," Commissioner Connie Wilson said. "We're not funding anything right now. We're assuming funds will come in from growth, money we hope will come in 2015 and that the next commission will agree to borrow on that money."

A previous request that Bradley County Schools allocate some of its expected energy savings resulting from the Lake Forest renovations also resurfaced during the discussion.

"I would request [the school board] identify expected savings for the proposed construction's operating costs and what they're willing to commit to this project," Peak-Jones said.

In a March meeting with the Finance Committee, school board members Troy Weathers and Christie Critchfield said the school system will need those expected energy savings to offset other expenses.

The commission will meet at noon May 20 at the courthouse. In addition to the Lake Forest project, commissioners will review the proposed 2013-14 budget for Bradley County Schools.