CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The Bradley County Commission plans to decide today whether to pitch in another $2.5 million to its existing $12 million commitment to a long-proposed central academic building for Lake Forest Middle School.
In February, the Bradley County Board of Education requested the funding increase after a cost reassessment of the two-story building, which will replace a dozen 40-year-old classroom pods scattered across the school's 75-acre campus. The school system is putting $2.6 million toward the facility's estimated $17.1 million price tag, more than doubling the school board's prior commitment of $1 million.
"I'm tickled that we are at the point where we are able to fund the $14.5 million for this much, much-needed school building," said commission Chairman Louie Alford on Thursday, citing the county's ability to fund its share of capital expenses because of projected revenue growth and praising the school board for its funding commitment.
In a recent Education Committee meeting, Dr. Linda Cash, director of the county school system, described the 64-classroom facility as very attractive and functional, but not extravagant.
Cash said the greatest benefit of the new building is that it will bring all of the school's students under one roof. Construction is expected to take 16 months or so, with the new facility scheduled to begin operations in fall 2018.
Commissioner Milan Blake, chairman of the Finance Committee, has said he has long had concerns that earlier funding commitments to the project would not be enough to properly execute it.
An increase in money borrowed for Lake Forest also means more money the county has to borrow on behalf of Cleveland City Schools.
According to a longstanding agreement between Bradley County and Cleveland, the county is required to raise $1 for the city school system for every $2 it raises for the county school system, based on a formula driven by average daily attendance of the respective school systems.
If the county borrows $14.5 million for Lake Forest, it will need to borrow an additional $7.25 million for Cleveland City Schools, which has plans to build a new elementary school on Georgetown Road.
The proposed Lake Forest academic building has been a recurring, sometimes heated, topic of active consideration by the County Commission and school board since 2011. Every attempt to fund the project through new or increased taxes has failed.
In 2012, Bradley County voters overwhelmingly opposed a proposed $35 wheel tax intended to serve as a revenue stream for educational debt service.
Last year, Commissioner Thomas Crye faced stiff opposition when he proposed funding the Lake Forest overhaul by means of a property tax increase.
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at email@example.com.