Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy is getting a gym makeover

Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy is getting a gym makeover

May 9th, 2016 by Joan Garrett McClane in Local Regional News

CGLA Executive Director Elaine Swafford looks across tables of students on the first day of the 2015 school year.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

A rendering provided by Hutton, a Chattanooga-based commercial real estate, development and construction company, shows the proposed design of the new gymnasium at 1802 Vance Ave.

A rendering provided by Hutton, a Chattanooga-based commercial...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

A local real estate and development company has raised more than $350,000 to renovate the old Tennessee Temple High School gym for the students and faculty of Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy and is asking other businesses to pitch in to help reach a fundraising goal of a half million dollars.

The Hutton firm is spearheading the project and partnering closely with Rice Williams, an architect from the local design firm Artech, who is donating his time. The remodel is scheduled to be complete by August, said Donna Coleman, Hutton's philanthropic liaison.

"The entire Hutton team toured the school, witnessed the excitement in the hallways, heard the success stories of the girls and observed the immediate physical needs of the school. This firsthand experience sealed the deal," said Karen J. Hutton, the company's CEO and owner.

In addition to helping with the gym, Hutton said she is so committed to the school and its mission that she has involved her company in its mentoring program and is working alongside others to launch an endowment campaign.

CGLA bought the gymnasium on Vance Avenue in Highland Park three years ago to add to the CGLA campus. But it is out of compliance with state code and is underused, officials said. The renovation will include bleachers, an HVAC system, a roof and additional restrooms that meet federal requirements.

Coleman said more money is needed to insure the remodeled gym meets the school's future needs.

CGLA is Hamilton County's only single-sex charter school, serving mostly poor and minority girls from the city's most racially and economically segregated neighborhoods. Under the leadership of longtime local educator Elaine Swafford, the school in recent years has defied academic expectations on both state and college admissions testing.

When Swafford came to CGLA, the school hadn't graduated anyone who was college-ready. Among the graduating class of 2016, however, nine of the 21 seniors, almost half, had high enough ACT scores to be considered ready for the rigors of college-level courses. In Swafford's first 18 months, CGLA went from the brink of closure to being named a Tennessee Reward School for two consecutive years.

To help students make those strides, Swafford has worked to recruit community support, both monetary and non-monetary, such as the gift from Hutton.

She has found grants to pay for test prep, after-school tutoring, at-home internet access, after-school transportation and teacher training, so her students can have the same levels of support available to middle- and upper-class students.

"The girls will have a functional and attractive gymnasium that they can be proud of, a place to hold school-wide events and a home for their winning sports programs," Swafford said in a statement.

"It will also provide space to hold credited Health and Physical Education courses, which we desperately need as we are outgrowing our present building space."

Contact staff writer Joan Garrett McClane at jmcclane@timesfree or 423-757-6601.