Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts may get new home at old Sears at Northgate

Staff photo by Tim Barber/ The Northgate Sears store sits idle after the department store closed in 2019.
Staff photo by Tim Barber/ The Northgate Sears store sits idle after the department store closed in 2019.

After nearly 20 years of waiting, Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts might finally get a new home.

Hamilton County Schools is considering purchasing the 179,000-square-foot former Sears store at Northgate Mall in Hixson to renovate and remodel to house the school.

Recommendations for the future of CSLA will be included in a facilities update presented to the Hamilton County school board on Thursday, according to district officials.

The relocation would move the magnet liberal arts school about 10 miles from East Brainerd to Hixson's retail hub, as well as expand it from a K-8 school to K-12.

The Sears building was once one of the anchor department stores of the Northgate Mall, until it closed in February 2018. The building is still owned by Sears Holding Co., which is now operating in bankruptcy. CBL Properties Inc, which owns most of Northgate Mall - but not the anchor sites - bought the former Sears building at Hamilton Place in 2017 but not the Northgate store.

CSLA has been promised a new home before. The 71-year-old building is prone to water leaks, sits on a shifting foundation, is riddled with windows that don't seal and isn't accessible to people with disabilities. The school, built in 1949, was rated as one of the worst schools in the district in a 1999 facilities report and has again been recommended for closure in a facilities audit completed by MGT Consulting Group over the past 18 months.


The Hamilton County school board will meet virtually for its April board meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 23. The meeting was rescheduled from April 16 due to last week’s tornadoes. The meeting will be live-streamed on Hamilton County Schools’ Facebook and YouTube pages.

In March, MGT's final recommendations did not name a new home for the 450-student school, but did include it and an addition to the new Harrison Elementary in what it called "Phase Zero," or the first steps for a potential 10-year facilities plan.

In 2017, the board approved a capital plan presented by Superintendent Bryan Johnson that would make use of $110 million in bond money from the Hamilton County Commission that included $28 million set aside to merge Tyner Middle and Tyner Academy and relocate CSLA to the remodeled middle school - but that plan was put on hold.

At the time, school board member Tucker McClendon, who represents CSLA as part of District 8, said there was a good chance CSLA would eventually see its own building.

"We need to make sure we are doing everything we can to make a financially sound decision," McClendon said at the time. "When you look at it, CSLA and Tyner are both proud communities and all have their wants and their needs, and I think that is something that wasn't necessarily thought about during the original plan."

The district still has about $25 million set aside for that project to spend on a new location for CSLA, but it is unclear whether it will seek additional funding for the project. Capital requests for such projects aren't included in the proposed budget that Johnson and his team unveiled to the board last month - on which they are set to vote Thursday.

Thursday's facilities update will also include recommendations for an addition for the new Harrison Elementary School that is set to open this August, security enhancements to improve entrances at 32 schools, updates on the district's plan for the former Mary Ann Garber School, which is set to house a new construction and technical academy and information about initial assessments of East Brainerd Elementary, which was severely damaged during last week's tornado.

Contact Meghan Mangrum at or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

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