Teen Learning Center fence plan criticized by Cleveland City Council

photo The Cleveland City School Board has proposed to enclose the grass lot of the Teen Learning Center with a 6-foot-high chain link fence as a means of improving student safety and preventing recurring illegal vehicle parking in the open space.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Aesthetics and personal vendettas were cited by members of the Cleveland City Council as reasons for the city school system to back off a plan to enclose the grass lot behind the Teen Learning Center with a 6-foot-tall chain link fence.

On Monday, Dr. Martin Ringstaff, director of Cleveland City Schools, addressed the City Council regarding concerns over a proposal to enclose the property, which is located in the city's historic district.

"The problem we have is a huge amount of cars use this as parking, to throw trash on and to do other things on it," said Ringstaff. "The properties in this area use it as their main parking spot and pull across it daily."

It is a matter of safety and liability, said Ringstaff.

The "bottom line" is that the decision to fence in the property appears to be a move against developer Nicholas Lillios, who owns nearby rental properties and serves as chairman of the Bradley County Board of Education, said Councilman Richard Banks.

The timing is especially sensitive considering that the county school system is seeking an estimated $800,000 in disputed liquor tax revenues that were previously distributed by Cleveland to the city school system, he said.

"Suddenly, it appears to me, it's that it's all a little war with Nick Lillios," said Banks. "Now if I'm wrong, I'm wrong."

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"Well, you're wrong," said Ringstaff. "When this project came forward, I had no clue who owned the properties across the way and I'm sure the school board didn't either until they starting 'raising Cain' about it."

Although, the city school board voted to approve the proposed fencing two months ago, the school's school resource officer and principal had submitted the request three or four years ago, said Dawn Robinson, a member of the city school board.

In that time, other safety concerns needed to be addressed first, she said.

While Banks' assertions could be true, a bigger concern is how enclosing the school's lot could impact the surrounding historic district, said Lillios in a cellphone text message.

"On the whole, however, I feel their move to fence the property is reckless and threatens the entire historic neighborhood, not just my two rental houses," said Lillios.

The city schools' move amounted to "biting the hand that feeds them," since the historical neighborhood association has cited the support of nearby Arnold Elementary School as part of its primary mission, he said.

"I want to see other options pursued first," said Councilman Bill Estes, who asked if the school board could deter illegal parking by having new curbing installed and increased vigilance by police traffic patrols.

Ringstaff said he would review the issue with the city school board in the near future.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at [email protected]