CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Bradley County will speed up its commitment by one year to provide up to $12 million for a proposed $14 million overhaul for Lake Forest Middle School.
The County Commission recently voted 8-6 to amend its commitment to fund the capital project in 2017. The measure, introduced by Commissioner Connie Wilson, was backed by Commissioners Jeff Yarber, Robert Rominger, Terry Caywood, Jeff Morelock, Bill Winters, Brian Smith and Adam Lowe. Commissioners Charlotte Peak-Jones, Bill Ledford, Mel Griffith, Mark Hall, Ed Elkins and Chairman Louie Alford opposed the amendment.
Funding will pay for construction of a 57-classroom academic building that will replace about a dozen classroom pods spread across Lake Forest's 75-acre campus. The new facility is intended to head off at least $6 million in roof, drainage and other repairs and provide energy savings. The project was estimated to cost $12 million two years ago.
The plan relies on projected revenue increases and does not pay for "soft costs" such as furniture and equipment not required for the school's technological infrastructure.
Projected revenue increases are mostly tied to agreements with Wacker Polysilicon that are expected to begin returning revenue in 2017. However, Morelock said, the amended timetable could take advantage of funds earmarked for growing the county's general fund balance in 2016.
Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis strongly opposed the earlier timetable, stating a need to increase the county general fund balance to safeguard against setbacks and secure better financial ratings until improved revenue streams materialize.
"The budget speaks for itself, and it's irresponsible if we push it up a year," Peak-Jones said. Such a move would "set the county up for a tax increase," which she said she would not support.
"To continue to fund what was a mistake is fundamentally irresponsible," said Lowe, stating that the school's current design of 17 buildings not only increased maintenance and energy costs, but also increased security risks for the campus.
"I just think with this situation, it's time to remedy it," he said. "It's time to fix it in a reasonable amount of time."
County leaders have raised concerns about relying on projected revenue increases, citing growth needs for county departments.
Proposed tax measures intended to fund the project have failed. Bradley County squashed a $35 wheel tax by a 3-1 margin in a referendum in August 2012. The commission voted against a 7.72 cent property tax increase last month.
Morelock said it sounded as if the county might fund the project in three years if it has the money.
The Bradley County Board of Education has offered to put $1 million toward the project if construction begins by July 2015.
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at email@example.com.