Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith asks for cash for STEM school

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith asks for cash for STEM school

May 16th, 2012 by Kevin Hardy in News

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith speaks during a school board meeting in this file photo.

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.


The Hamilton County Board of Education will vote on whether to use capital funds at its 5:30 p.m. meeting on Thursday. If approved, construction will continue for the school's planned completion by Aug. 1.


Officials announced on Tuesday a $100,000 commitment from Unum and a $25,000 commitment from First Tennessee Bank to go towards the STEM school.


So far, organizations have donated the following goods and services to get the STEM school off the ground:

• Architectural and engineering services

• Plumbing fixtures

• Interior, emergency, exterior and exit light

• HVAC Controls

• Fire alarm equipment

Demolition is nearly complete on a fast-paced project to open a science, technology, engineering and math school in Hamilton County by August. But now a lack of cash stands to slow construction.

While waiting on donations to renovate space, the school system may borrow up to $500,000 from its own capital projects fund to ensure work continues.

Donations of goods and services have come in, though Superintendent Rick Smith said the school system still needs to purchase materials and services to move forward. Smith placed the transfer request on Thursday's Board of Education agenda.

"Any further delay in our ability to purchase materials/supplies/services will jeopardize having the project ready for occupancy this fall," he wrote in materials provided to school board members.

Hamilton County received a $1.8 million state grant to fund the STEM program -- $1 million for a school and $850,000 for an associated "hub" to house partnering organizations. But school officials noted early on the school would have to be supplemented with local dollars and donations.

The grant's approval was contingent upon receiving the support of higher education institutions, the philanthropic community and local businesses. With the grant, the school system can fund certain materials and staff members, but it can't be used for construction costs, said Gary Waters, assistant superintendent for auxiliary services.

Waters said the temporary transfer of funds won't cause any disruptions in his maintenance department. And with less than 60 working days until the school's Aug. 1 completion, work must continue soon, he said. Construction on the school, being built in the former Olan Mills building at Chattanooga State Community College, could get under way as early as this Friday, he said.

"We've got to push it if we're going to get it done," Waters said. "We're at the point now where we've got to have money."

Project planners acquired some financial pledges from partnering organizations early on, though recruitment work continues.

"The funds are coming in. They were a little slow at first. But now they're coming in to keep it going," school board Chairman Mike Evatt said.

Donations of $100,000 from Unum and $25,000 from First Tennessee Bank were announced on Tuesday. Tracey Carisch, who is helping lead the STEM effort, said the group continues to seek partnership opportunities with local businesses and organizations. She noted that not all commitments are financial, as some organizations will donate time or in-kind services.

"We're having a lot of really good conversations with business and community partners that are very supportive," she said.