Construction workers thought they found the remains of a body Monday as they were tearing down the old Charles A. Bell School in Alton Park.
But police and the Hamilton County medical examiner said the bones, found in high grass near the back of the school, were from an animal.
"It scared us a bit at first," said Josh Robinson, operations manager with Tristar of America construction company, but it turned out to be a dead dog or a deer.
Robinson is among more than a dozen construction workers doing the first phase of demolition at the dilapidated school.
"It's coming down," he said. "I'd like to say within two or three weeks you won't see much of nothing here."
Phase 1 includes removing the roof, metals and lead paint and asbestos abatement. In October, another company will do the final demolition, County Engineer Todd Leamon said. The site will be capped with clay and soil; then grass will be planted, he said.
Alton Park resident Milton Jackson said the demolition is "10 years too late, but it will be right on time if they get everything done. It will be good not to have asbestos blowing through the community."
Charles A. Bell School has been vacant since 1991, said Jackson, who has lived in Alton Park for more than 50 years and is the founder of Stop Toxic Pollution, a neighborhood environmental group.
Alton Park has several former industrial sites that are contaminated with chemicals, including the former Anchor Glass factory, the U.S. Pipe and Foundry site and Charles A. Bell, whose buildings and land contained asbestos, lead paint and creosote.
The 10-acre triangular site is covered with thigh-high beige grass that hides abandoned tires, rotting wood, rodents and the animal bones found Monday.
The community has asked for a place where children can have fun without walking a mile to the South Chattanooga Recreation Center, Jackson said. Residents have complained that their access to recreation is limited because a mile is too far for smaller children to walk.
The goal is to transform the school site into a ballfield, Jackson said, which would put a play area less than a block away from many homes.
The demolition is the result of a $200,000 Environmental Protection Agency grant awarded in 2009, Leamon said. The project also got $200,000 from the city and $200,000 from the county, he said.
All 13 of the construction crew members are graduates of the Brownfields Job Training Program, which trains Chattanooga residents for entry-level jobs in hazardous waste management, environmental cleanup and asbestos, mold and lead abatement.
Greg Walton went through the training program and is working at the site.
"It works," the Chattanooga resident said. "I had 18 days worth of training and was employed eight days after finishing the program."
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6431.