Parents at Red Bank town hall seek to protect elementary school from potential closure

Their effort comes as county mayor calls the area an 'unmitigated disaster'

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Signs are posted outside of the community center Wednesday. School board member Ben Connor and County Commissioner David Sharpe held a community meeting at Red Bank Community Center to discuss what is known about a new proposal to update and consolidate several schools in Hamilton County.
Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Signs are posted outside of the community center Wednesday. School board member Ben Connor and County Commissioner David Sharpe held a community meeting at Red Bank Community Center to discuss what is known about a new proposal to update and consolidate several schools in Hamilton County.

Wearing school gear and buttons that say "Save Alpine Crest," around 100 parents, teachers and students gathered at the Red Bank Community Center on Wednesday evening hoping to preserve their community school.

The school's closure has been proposed by Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp and Superintendent Justin Robertson.

The effort to save the school came the same week Wamp told a Republican group that Red Bank is too woke, describing the area as "an unmitigated disaster" and as an area whose leaders "have run it completely into a ditch."

Earlier this month a working group appointed by Wamp released a school facilities plan calling for campus closures and renovations in the interest of lowering maintenance costs by having fewer buildings.

Among other recommendations, the plan proposes building a new elementary school on the current DuPont Elementary site in Hixson, consolidating three out of four smaller schools in the area — Alpine Crest, DuPont, Hixson and Rivermont — onto one larger campus.


Local politicians who represent Red Bank listened to community members' comments and concerns about the effect the plan would have on their schools.

"If there's one thing that I know is that everybody in this room loves their school," school board member Ben Connor, D-Chattanooga, said. "So I will listen to everybody."

(READ MORE: Hamilton County school facilities plan recommends renovations, school closures)

The plan is not final and hasn't been officially recommended to the Hamilton County school board, which has to approve construction projects and zoning changes. Robertson emphasized the increase in educational opportunities and resources a larger and newly renovated school would have.

"We cannot continue with the status quo if we want to continue to keep up with what we expect for kids," he said. "We want them to have a tremendous educational experience regardless of where they're going."

Residents highlighted the recent investments residents have made to better the school. Over the summer, Alpine Crest Elementary installed new playground equipment, and community members built a pavilion and cleared a trailhead for the forest kindergarten class that started this school year. The school also opened an onsite digital fabrication space, or eLab, this fall.

"It's a place that matters," Caroline Mickey, the school's librarian, said. "I know that this school is old. I know that this school has more stairs than any elementary school has any right to have, but it is still a place where kids know that when they walk in those doors, they are safe, they are seen and they are loved."

In the roughly two weeks since the facilities plan was announced, the Alpine Crest Parent-Teacher Association has mobilized in an effort to preserve its school. Parents have printed lawn signs and gathered more than 2,000 signatures for a petition to save the school.

"We want to talk about what's best for kids' education. I also want to talk about how this isn't going to be beneficial for teachers' well-being and mental health," Lindsey Butcher, the forest kindergarten teacher, said. "I can't imagine what it would be like walking down the halls of a mega school and you don't even know who the kids are."

Although Connor asked attendees to stay focused on the facilities plan, Wamp's comments slamming the Red Bank area Monday during a meeting of the Pachyderm Club remained a presence throughout the town hall.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County mayor calls Red Bank 'unmitigated disaster,' slams Democratic commissioner as 'obstructionist')

"You can call me woke if you want to," Hamilton County Commissioner David Sharpe, D-Red Bank, said to applause.

"It's a crisis. We've talked about being bold and forcing families into big schools and whatever. Maybe there needs to be some compromise there," he said. "But politicians need to be polled and be honest about what it's going to take to correct the problem."

Tina Tomaszewski, whose daughter attended Alpine Crest, raised concerns about the fact that the DuPont Elementary site sits on a 500-year floodplain.

"We've got global warming issues," she said. "We might have serious flooding issues, and we have morons wanting to build a mega school in a floodplain."

Red Bank Mayor Hollie Berry said she was concerned that sending students to a larger school at the DuPont Elementary site would mean that all Red Bank students would no longer attend the same middle and high schools.

"It would divide our community. We all know how much community pride Alpine Crest has," she said. "I love creativity, but I would also love to advocate for a much less creative solution: taxes. Who here would be willing to pay a higher property tax rate to keep our schools open?"

Almost everyone left in the room as the meeting approached the three-hour mark raised their hand.

Connor and Sharpe will host another town hall to get community input on the facilities proposal at 6 p.m. Sept. 6 in the auditorium of Normal Park Upper School. The plan recommends relocating Normal Park Upper and Lower to increase magnet seats.

Contact Shannon Coan at scoan@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6396.

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