The Hamilton County Board of Education received two lower-than-expected bids for the now-closed 21st Century Academy, each proposal with very different visions for the vacant school.
Locally based Emerson Russell Management Corp. offered $12,500 for the 74,000-square foot building, which sits on about eight acres at 4201 Cherryton Drive. Company officials said they hoped to renovate the building to house corporate offices.
The other bid from Helton and Associates came in at $50,000, with a plan to use the building as a business incubator and community space.
Each pitched their proposals to the school board's facilities committee Thursday evening.
Because the bids came in low, board Chairman Mike Evatt asked each party to submit their best and final offer within the week, before the bids are presented to the full school board.
"The proposals were quite a bit less than we were expecting" for the former Brainerd Junior High, Evatt said.
The school building recently was appraised at $350,000, said Gary Waters, assistant superintendent for auxiliary services.
The building, which closed in 2009, has been ravaged by theft and vandalism. It needs a new heating and air system as well as electrical work, though Waters noted it is a "beautiful old school" that just outlived its purpose.
"We realize the investment that will be required by anyone redeveloping the property," he said. "It is in relatively poor condition."
ERMC officials said they plan to invest $6.2 million to improve and maintain the original look of the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. ERMC could consolidate its various Chattanooga offices into a centralized location and house a training center, said Chief Financial Officer Tommy Kranz, who is the former CFO for the Hamilton County Department of Education.
The new location would bring 57 new full-time jobs to ERMC, which provides security, janitorial and mechanical maintenance services in 40 states, Kranz said.
Residents from two Brainerd neighborhood associations attended the meeting in support of ERMC's proposal. President and CEO Emerson Russell said the company is committed to working with neighbors and making parts of the building, like its auditorium, available for community use.
"I feel this would be a real good landmark for us to bring it all back together in this community," he said.
But W.C. "Bud" Helton said his proposal would be more in line with the building's original purpose. And though he plans to update the building, he said he won't dramatically alter its appearance.
"I have no desire to take a building and change it to some other activity," he said.
Helton, a schoolteacher and administrator turned general contractor, purchased the former John P. Franklin Middle School building in Alton Park. It houses a business incubator, job training center and the Southside Community Health Center, which is owned by Erlanger hospital.
He said the 21st Century building would serve a similar function, housing space for business start-ups and a community fitness center. After his presentation, Helton said he doesn't plan to operate the facility to make money.
Both proposals would require a change in zoning.