Bess Steverson, left, and Bill Steverson walk past the princpal's office during an open house to show renovations made over the summer to Brainerd High School as part of the Brainerd Together project on Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Community members and business partners volunteered time and services to remodel parts of the school.

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Brainerd Together project

A new coat of paint. Waxed, polished floors or fresh carpet. New, clean desks and lockers. Weight-room equipment free of rust.

A lot can change in one summer at a school.

Even more can change when the whole community comes together to do it.

On Wednesday, Brainerd High School faculty and staff will greet new and returning students on the first day of school for the 2019-20 school year.

They'll be returning to a renovated and rejuvenated Brainerd High, thanks to the efforts of the Brainerd High National Alumni Association and dozens of community partners through the Brainerd Together project.

Ice'Lend Bradley, an incoming senior at Brainerd, thanked sponsors and volunteers at a big reveal event on Sunday.

"We are too often recognized or seen on the news for all of the bad things, but never for good that comes out of Brainerd," she said. "I believe the way that something is represented says a lot about a person or what that thing is representing. I believe that everyone who helped complete this project helped make this a better place [and] gave Brainerd a new face."

Brainerd Together Partners

Brainerd High School Alumni Association
Regions Bank
Southeastern Salvage
South East Total Service
New Blue Construction
Waldrop Construction
Economy Honda
Chattanooga Bar Association
Chattanooga Bar Foundation
CBL Properties
East Chattanooga Lumber and Supply Co.
The Feed Table & Tavern
Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport
T.U. Parks Construction Co.
Interior Alchemy
ACE Hardware
Chattanooga Fire Department
Sherwin Williams
Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce
Lansing Building Products
Ward's Construction
Elemi Architects
Tom Bible Law
Mount Canaan Baptist Church
Parker's Direct Flooring
Food City
Key Bonding Company
Huddle House
Newk's Eatery
Silverdale Baptist Church
HHM Certified Public Accountants
BBQ Rowe and Catering
Relevant Church

The project launched in February and included months of long service days at the school, including an entire week where nearly 200 volunteers showed up to work leading up to alumni weekend in June.

It was spearheaded by Alison Lebovitz, community member and board member of local education nonprofit UnifiEd, and Eric McKenzie, community engagement specialist at Brainerd and president-elect of the alumni association. Lebovitz helped former Chief of the Opportunity Zone Jill Levine lead a similar revitalization of Normal Park Museum Magnet in 2008 and knew what could be done.

Dozens of corporate partners stepped up — Unum, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee and Regions Bank among them.

The fire department built desks for a classroom that is part of Brainerd's Future Ready Institute of Law, First Responders and Forensic Science.

Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport hired a contractor to redesign the school's aviation classroom and the Chattanooga Bar Association turned the school's mock trial classroom into a realistic model courtroom.

Christian Sinclair, an intern at BlueCross and a senior at Middle Tennessee State University, is a Brainerd alumnus. He said he was thrilled to see the results of the hard work the community poured into the project. He spent two days during alumni week — and on the clock at BlueCross — painting and cleaning classrooms.

"I remember being a student here and thinking, 'This school needs a whole lot of work and a lot of love,'" said Sinclair, who graduated in 2016. "When I got the opportunity to help out, I was so excited. It definitely needed it."

Tom Griscom, former editor of the Times Free Press and a Brainerd alumnus, said that when he walked the school's hallways earlier this summer, it seemed like not much had changed.

"Time has not really been good to the school," he said during the celebration Sunday. "Today, we come together with one goal in mind, and that is restoring the pride in this school."

Though structurally sound, the building and its condition haven't changed much since 1960. Brainerd High is one of many schools across the district that have racked up staggering amounts of deferred maintenance, or that have been making do with outdated classrooms and technology.

Recently, after the Brainerd Together project was launched, Hamilton County Schools released a preliminary facilities report conducted by MGT Consulting Group. The report assessed 74 school buildings and analyzed their physical conditions and suitability for technology and the education programs intended to happen in each building.

The report found a staggering $1.36 billion in deferred maintenance across the district.

Though Brainerd High's individual assessment is not yet available, the school is on the chopping block. It is one of the schools that the preliminary report recommends closing.

It's been in bad shape for years — Brainerd school scored a 60 out of 100 on an internal facilities audit in 2016. As of May 2009 the district was spending only 37 cents per square foot on maintenance costs at Brainerd, according to a Hamilton County Department of Education internal facilities review. The average spent at the time across the district was 63 cents per square foot.

Brainerd's Executive Principal Chris James has noted time and again that "Chattanooga is not going to get better until Brainerd gets better."

On Sunday, he said he was overwhelmed and full.

"Y'all have changed some lives," James said. "The community has spoken to Brainerd High students and said, 'Yes, we believe in you.' It's not just your principal and your teachers. I believe we are doing the right work here."

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