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Staff Photo by John W. Coniglio / McConnell Elementary School is located on Columbus Rd. just off Hixson Pike.

Parking lot lights at Brainerd High School, new lockers at East Ridge High, a new roof for McConnell and Red Bank elementary schools — these are some of the items on the school district's proposed capital maintenance budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

The $3 million budget addresses systemwide needs as well as specific issues at 16 schools as the district awaits results from its comprehensive building assessment later this year.

For now, these "Band-Aid" fixes are all the district can afford, school leaders say.

"I think Superintendent [Bryan] Johnson and his staff did a good job of putting together a $3 million budget. Dr. Johnson and his staff are trying to use taxpayer dollars in the most responsible way possible," said District 8 school board member Tucker McClendon. "We have to do what we can with the money that we have."

The district has allocated about $3 million every year toward capital maintenance for about the past decade, said Brent Goldberg, the district's chief financial officer.

This year, it even freed up some funding by moving maintenance salaries from the capital maintenance budget to the general budget, Goldberg said at the school board's March 28 budget work session.

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Proposed budgets

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The school board only began budget talks on March 14 and will continue reviewing next year's proposed budget through the next several weeks. The capital maintenance budget is still just a proposal and is part of the overall budget that must be approved by the school board.

Director of Facilities Justin Witt said the facilities department keeps a running list — the school board has acknowledged for years that it has more than $200 million in deferred maintenance across the county — and looks at what is an electrical or plumping problem, or a building issue each year.

"Obviously, there's a lot more needs than we can address, so we have to fix priorities," Witt said.

At the school board's last work session on March 28, District 4 board member Tiffanie Robinson said she was surprised "not every school was on the list."

Johnson assured her that the district would soon be paying closer attention to facilities.

"We are going to have to get pretty aggressive in our deferred maintenance items," he said at the meeting. "Even in some of our newer schools, we are going to have to continue to be aggressive on this."

The district is awaiting results from a more than $500,000 facility assessment, that district officials say have already begun. Every school district facility in the county is being evaluated and rated on a variety of measures including age, condition and educational function of the building.

McClendon, who is the board's point-person for facilities, said he didn't anticipate the district would commit to major projects until it received the assessment results.

"I think of lot of what needs to be done will be shed in the building assessment and once we get that assessment we'll be able to move forward and stop putting band-aids on these problems," he said.

In 2017, the Hamilton County Commission allocated $110 million mostly from a property tax hike commissioners approved in September for school capital projects including the new East Hamilton Middle and Harrison Elementary schools, renovations to several others and improved athletic facilities at Brainerd, Central, Hixson and Soddy-Daisy high schools.

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

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