Hamilton County, school officials talk about plans for spending on capital repairs

Hamilton County, school officials talk about plans for spending on capital repairs

October 7th, 2017 by Rosana Hughes in Local Regional News

Tyler Middle School is seen on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Tyler Middle School is seen on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Tyler Middle School is seen on Friday, Oct....

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

School Superintendent Bryan Johnson is putting together a plan for the $100 million allocated for school capital projects by the Hamilton County Commission.

"We don't have anything to bring forward at this time," Johnson said. "It's still working through focusing on how we can best use the resources that we have."

Though nothing has been approved, school board member David Testerman said Johnson has been having conversations with each board member individually in an effort to understand how the district gained its long list of maintenance needs.

Additionally, Tiffanie Robinson confirmed that each board member was shown a presentation with the ideas, featuring a price tag of $125 million. Commissioners and Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said they had not heard discussions about the additional $25 million.

"The central office team is doing their job, they're putting together a plan and they're putting together, hopefully, cost- saving ideas," she said, adding she thought they were working hard to lower costs for buildings.

"I'm definitely encouraged by the plan that they presented, but nothing is for sure yet," she said.

Potential plans range from building new schools to creating magnet schools.

Some of the ideas being floated are:

-Tyner Middle School would be merged with Tyner High School to form Tyner Middle-High.

-The Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts would move into a renovated Tyner Middle School — a building that's more than 100 years old. The current 68-year-old CSLA building has a number of structural issues, with water damage, decay, mold and mice, parents have said.

-New East Hamilton Middle and Harrison Elementary schools would be built. Harrison Elementary, built 77 years ago, is nearly beyond repair, with sewage regularly backing up in the hallways and extensive water damage. East Hamilton Middle is not as old but is severely overcrowded.

-Howard Middle — now closed — would be renovated and reopened as a magnet school. It would take students from Clifton Hill and East Lake Elementary, which are overcrowded.

Robinson did not confirm whether those were the exact details of the plan, but said a lot of them sounded like what was included in the presentation. Coppinger also said he was familiar with some of the ideas listed as part of the plan.

"That sounds like his long-term, long-range plan, which is always very helpful to have something like that," he said.

"This is all very preliminary," Robinson said, adding a school board vote has not been scheduled yet, though there has been talk about a vote taking place the week of Oct. 16. School board member Kathy Lennon also said a meeting would be held that week.

When contacted, several commissioners and other board members acknowledged discussions had been taking place, but did not want to talk about the plans, noting they had not seen an official report. Some also said they were not aware of the details of the plan.

"I'm aware of discussions, but I've not seen a report," Commissioner Greg Martin said, adding that nothing has been presented to him informally, either.

"The school board and the county commission are constantly talking about how we can improve the school system, so the fact that there's discussions is nothing new," he said. " Until I see a report that's been adopted by the school board, I'm going to reserve my judgment."

Johnson echoed those statements.

"There's nothing to be shared because there is no official plan," Johnson said, adding that he and the board plan to stick to the list of priority maintenance needs released in February.

As far as county commissioners meeting to discuss the financial plan, Coppinger said that no presentation or meeting is scheduled for commissioners on Oct. 10.

Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.


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