Chattanooga’s Skyuka Hall converting 12,000-square-foot farmhouse into school

Photo Contributed by Skyuka Hall / A single-family farmhouse on Noah Reid Road will become the next home of Skyuka Hall School.
Photo Contributed by Skyuka Hall / A single-family farmhouse on Noah Reid Road will become the next home of Skyuka Hall School.

The move-in date is still uncertain for the next occupants of 7468 Noah Reid Road, but an architect's vision and contractors' labor will eventually transform the nearly 12,000-square-foot, single-family farmhouse into a K-12 school.

As much as the new accommodations should thrill the students of Skyuka Hall, administrators say they may be even more excited about having grass to play on. Not that they've complained about the commercial parking lot that serves as their outdoor space at the school's current site at Eastgate Town Center.

"Believe it or not, our kids don't care that their playground is next to an interstate or that airplanes loudly fly overhead while they are playing," says Amber Beason, director of admission and communication. "They are just happy to be surrounded by people who love them. With the new property, we will have over 16 acres of grass and fresh air to give our students room to play, explore and build their community."

The scenic acreage on Noah Reid Road already includes a fieldhouse and a full-size soccer field and pavilion. The indoor renovations will revamp the home's eight bedrooms, 7.5 baths and four-bay garage, amenities touted in the realty listing for the home, built in 2019. Skyuka Hall closed on the property in mid-February, paying $4.7 million.

This is the second move for the school, which was established in 2014 as Scenic Land School to serve students with learning differences. Unlike the first, forced relocation, this move should come with far less disruption.

Originally located in the Four Squares business complex on Mountain Creek Road, Scenic Land was completely flooded in July 2018 after a water main erupted in the parking lot -- "gushing for hours until it could be turned off," Beason says.

Under the weight of accumulated water on the flat roof, she recalls, "the building collapsed and we were left with nothing, save for a few calculators our 70-plus-year-old math teacher climbed through the wreckage to salvage."

According to news coverage at the time, the school's accreditation organization, the Southern Association of Independent Schools, gave them 45 days to secure a new location. They were able to accomplish that by Aug. 2 when school leaders obtained the keys to the Chattanooga Charter School of Excellence, which was relocating to 23rd Street and leaving its original location at Eastgate.

"We were literally moving donated furniture into Eastgate as they were moving out," Beason says, crediting local schools and organizations for donating desks, furniture, computers and other equipment to help them start the new academic year "with as little disruption as possible to our students."

They started that school year on Aug 23, 2018, with just a one-week delay and a record enrollment of 97 students. The Brainerd Road facility was twice the size of the previous campus and included a gymnasium, cafeteria seating and playground, which the school had not previously had.

That December, the school was gifted land valued at $2 million off Highway 153, which was intended to become the school's permanent home. But work on the property and fundraising for the capital campaign were delayed by the April 2020 tornadoes that hit Chattanooga.

"Then came COVID. And then COVID again -- the gift that kept on giving," Beason says. "With the cost of our Phase I project more than doubled, the campaign lost momentum and we focused our efforts on supporting our students through the complexity of the pandemic."

As the school's three-year lease at Eastgate extended to four and then five years, alternate, short-term locations were explored, Beason says, "but nothing felt 'right.' The gift of the land was the promise of mission fulfillment in our school. That connection was palpable and could not be found -- or felt -- anywhere else.

"As it turns out, we had been looking in all the wrong places," she says. "We were not meant to find just any building. We were meant to find a home. Much like our students, all it took was thinking outside the box."

Now, with a breathtaking building and nearly 17 acres at their disposal, administrators say it's time to turn long-held dreams into reality. The Highway 153 property will be sold to help finance the venture.

"Right now we are thinking big and planning big," Beason says. "Academics are our bread and butter, so our priority is providing state-of-the-art technology and equipment to support our students in the classroom."

School leaders are already looking for ways to introduce students to the site, including holding prom and other spring events at the new campus.

Through the years, Beason says, things have always seemed to fall into place for the school in a way that couldn't be explained. She and other administrators say finding the Noah Reid Road site is the school's next blessing in a timeline filled with providence.

"Having a place of this magnitude to finally call home will mean everything to our students, current families and families who will choose Skyuka Hall in the future," says Head of School Josh Yother. "God has truly blessed us with a special and unique place to call home."

Coming attractions

Amber Beason, director of admission and communication, says the new permanent home for Skyuka Hall will have several advantages over its former locations. Developments are still in the planning phase, but these are some of the expected improvements and additions administrators say will be possible at the Noah Reid Road site.

-- Specialty classrooms: Because Skyuka Hall serves students with learning differences, space is designated in classrooms and elsewhere for students to have "a calm space to regroup when needed" or "a quiet place to give their brain a much-needed break," Beason says. "These will most certainly be in place (at the new site) in locations where they can be easily and quickly accessed." The classrooms also will be equipped with flexible seating options, such as sofas and balance balls, "to give (students) the wiggle outlet they need."

-- Communal spaces: A great room will be available where families can gather and students can read books by the fireplace. A patio will provide space for students to enjoy lunch outside and gather for other activities. "The communal spaces are very important," Beason says. "We want our students to have the feeling of being in a home where they can relax and be themselves with their friends and classmates. The cafeteria, library and great room will be designed with this in mind."

-- Cafeteria: Beason says Skyuka Hall has never been able to provide cafeteria service to students. The new property will have a fully-stocked kitchen.

-- Immersion in nature: "We have two teachers with backgrounds in outdoor education who can't wait to build outdoor classrooms and field-based curriculum," Beason says. "Our science classes can walk to the edge of the property where there is a marsh and some of the best birdwatching in the area."

-- Athletic facilities: The new property has a fieldhouse and full-size soccer field and pavilion. Skyuka Hall currently offers six sports: basketball, golf, track and field, cross country, bowling and climbing.

-- STEAM lab: Beason says there will be extensive space to grow the science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics curriculum. Woodworking and automotive shops may be added. "Maybe one day we can have a pottery studio or a concert hall," Beason says.