“We cannot continue to kick the can down the street. The time for action is now.”
Approximately $35 million for desperately needed repairs to Harrison Elementary School was placed at the top of a prioritized facility construction list by the Hamilton County school board on Thursday.
The list was requested by the Hamilton County Commission, which will consider the list as it discusses project funding this year. It's possible the commission will not fund any of the projects, but the prioritized list underscores the urgency of some of the repairs.
Just behind Harrison Elementary on the list was $64 million for repairs to the Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts and the construction of a new East Hamilton Middle School, which has an estimated cost of $45 million.
"All three of these are important. All three of these are needed," said school board Chairman Steve Highlander.
He and other school board members repeated that sentiment several times, while acknowledging that the commission ultimately makes funding decisions. The commission had requested that the school board list the projects by level of immediate need.
"We can support something all day long, but your county is who holds the purse strings," said board member Karitsa Mosley Jones.
The Times Free Press previously reported Harrison Elementary is 77 years old and nearly beyond repair, with sewage regularly backing up into the hallways and extensive water damage.
Parents and grandparents of students at Harrison have emailed the district and members of the school board to voice their concerns about their children's safety, with one threatening a lawsuit if the school's facility is not addressed.
The decision came as a disappointment to several parents with students enrolled at CSLA who said students there are also in desperate need of an upgraded facility.
"It's in poor shape. It just keeps getting not addressed," said Eric Emory. "We understand there are other schools that have needs, but [the school board] prioritizes on a year-by-year basis."
Speaking directly to the board, Don Jacobson said the county can't defer repairs any longer, arguing that CSLA is an award-winning, nationally acclaimed school.
"We cannot continue to kick the can down the street; the time for action is now," he said.
During Thursday's meeting the board also voted unanimously to transfer the deed to the athletic facilities at East Ridge High School to the city of East Ridge.
The facilities cover approximately 12 acres and have not received much-needed maintenance in years, but Scott Miller, the city manager of East Ridge, said the city will spend $40,000 up front as a capital investment in the facilities.
The transfer of the athletic properties to the municipality allows it to leverage state grants to cover costs of repairs and upgrades, saving the school district maintenance dollars. The agreement gives the middle and high school priority use of the tennis courts, two soccer fields, ball field, football stadium and track, but the facilities also will be accessible to the community.
Finally, the board rejected the request of school iZone director Sheryl Randolph to be allowed to go on paid sabbatical while pursuing her doctorate. She would have been paid half her salary while achieving the degree.
Several board members pushed against the request, pointing out that such a request had not been granted by the school system in some time, if ever, and debating whether the request was a justified cost to the school system.
"I feel like that's on your dime, not on the taxpayers'," said board member Rhonda Thurman.
Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at email@example.com or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.