State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, some of her staff members, including Christy Ballard, general counsel, and Laura Encalade, chief of staff, meet with Opportunity Zone leaders, Debbie Rosenow and Jill Levine, and Principal LaFrederick Thirkill at Orchard Knob Elementary School on Thursday, February 8. McQueen and members of her staff visited the school before a work session with the Hamilton County school board where McQueen presented the state's plan for the district's historically failing schools.

This story was updated Feb. 21, 2018, at 11:25 p.m.

Hamilton County commissioners on Wednesday voted to approve the architects selected for seven public school projects, as well as $110 million in bonds to fund them.

The architects were selected and approved last week by the Hamilton County school board, before being officially presented to the county.

Last October, the Hamilton County school board unanimously approved a $100 million-plus capital project plan set forth by Superintendent Bryan Johnson.

County commissioners voted to approve the plan in November. The plan will mostly be funded by a property tax hike commissioners approved in September, the first such increase in a decade. Commissioners voted not to adopt the state-certified tax rate calculated after the most recent reappraisal but to keep the existing rate — a tax increase of 26.4 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The architects approved Wednesday include:

  • Franklin Architects to build the new Harrison Elementary
  • TWH Architects to construct the new East Hamilton Middle
  • Derthick, Henley and Wilkerson was selected to build the Tyner Middle and High schools addition and the new Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts
  • Neuhoff Taylor Architects will build the Snow Hill Elementary addition
  • Barge Design Solutions will construct a new stadium and track for Howard High School

In January, the district interviewed five architects selected for each project, but concrete designs and plans have not yet been approved.

The next step in the process will be drawing out general design plans for the new schools and additions with the architects, which, after review, will then be put up for bid from construction firms.

"We are in negotiation with the architects that were selected to get them under contract, after that we'll talk about the schematic designs," said Justin Witt, director of maintenance and operations for Hamilton County Schools.

The design phase for most of the projects will last from 8 to 12 months, according to Witt, and then the district will develop a hard bid project. Construction on most of the projects will not begin until the end of 2018, or early 2019.

Last fall, when the district's plan was presented to the school board, the hope was to begin construction or renovation on the projects by December with the goal that all projects would be completed by 2021.

The plan also included a number of other capital projects including an addition to Lookout Valley Elementary, a new HVAC system for the Center for Creative Arts, installation ion of an elevator at Normal Park and a new stadium or athletic facility, for which the district has also committed general funds toward.

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