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A conceptual image of a proposed elementary school, which Cleveland City Schools plans to establish on Georgetown Road between Cleveland Middle School and Hopewell Elementary. Image contributed by Upland Design Group.
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Open Letter from Cleveland Schools to residents

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Cleveland City Schools has revived a push to construct a new elementary school on Georgetown Road, taking the matter directly to the residents of Cleveland in an open letter.

Plans for the proposed school were sidelined in light of the emergency replacement of the Raider Dome, Cleveland High School's gymnasium, which was closed in December 2013.

"I am asking for support for our Cleveland City Council and Cleveland City Board of Education as they will have some really tough decisions to make as we move forward," Dr. Martin Ringstaff, director of the city school system, wrote in a Jan. 21 letter addressed to city residents.

In a recent meeting, Ringstaff discussed the letter with the Cleveland City school board.

The need for a new elementary school "has been bubbling" for quite some time, said school board member Dawn Robinson, citing a 1998 strategic plan that called for the establishment of a new elementary facility by 2015.

Four years ago, the school system had 4,875 students -- a number that has increased by 457, Ringstaff said in the letter.

Cleveland City Schools gained 201 students in 2011-12 and has gained 175 students so far in the current school year, he said.

The increase in students is being driven by Cleveland's healthy growth trends, Ringstaff said.

Several elementary schools, especially Mayfield, are "jam-packed" with students, he said.

"What we want to do is create a sense of urgency," Ringstaff said. "We are really running out of room at the elementary levels, and I don't believe that shocks anyone."

He said plans call for building a $13 million school with the capacity for 550 pupils. Property for the school was purchased two years ago for around $1 million and included preparatory grading work, he said.

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The high school gymnasium project, which pre-empted construction of the new elementary, has been budgetedat $11 million.

Ringstaff said both projects are needs, not wants.

A Bradley County capital project to overhaul Lake Forest Middle School, which is in the county school system, may provide up to $6 million for the new elementary school project.

According to a longstanding agreement between Bradley County and Cleveland, the county must raise $1 for the city school system for every $2 it raises for the county school system, according to a formula based on student populations of the two school systems.

The Bradley County Commission has committed up to $12 million to the Lake Forest makeover "as funds become available," which some county leaders have projected to be in 2016 or 2017.

Bradley County must provide funding for the Cleveland school system when it issues a bond for the middle school project.

Paul Leach is based inCleveland. Email him atpaul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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