After a decade in the making, elected officials and community members finally were able to celebrate the groundbreaking of The Howard School's new track and stadium Thursday.
The $5.9 million project is slated to be completed in time for a fall 2019 grand opening. It is one of several projects funded through $110 million in bond funds allocated to Hamilton County Schools by the Hamilton County Commission in 2017.
"I declare this day, Jan. 31, 2019, an answer to prayers," said former District 5 County Commissioner Greg Beck. "A lot of people gave up and said it would never happened. But it has happened."
Beck has been one of the staunch supporters of the project for years, rallying community supporters, school board members, commissioners and even county Mayor Jim Coppinger behind the project.
The Howard School is one of the five schools that make up the State Partnership Network, a collaboration between the district and the Tennessee Department of Education that serves a mostly minority, low-income population.
For decades, Howard students have been using a field that often flooded with raw sewage, Beck said.
"Finally, we were able to get someone to listen to us," he said.
Many of the elected officials at Thursday's groundbreaking credited Beck's tenacity with moving the project forward. Many also agreed, as District 5 school board member Tiffanie Robinson noted, that they had "been waiting for this day for a long time."
"It has been a long time coming," said Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga. "A lot of thanks really goes to Greg Beck. He suffered politically because of this, but rallied the community and supporters."
Howard Principal LeAndrea Ware, a Howard alumnus, expressed gratitude and enthusiasm. She said the school would hold a schoolwide grand opening in the fall for the new stadium.
"For me this is a momentous occasion. It is an amazing day," Ware said. "I personally can remember marching in the Gaston Stadium as a cheerleader and a drum major. We've known that for a time there has been wear and tear to that stadium, and Mr. Greg Beck and the community saw the need for the birth of a new stadium."
Superintendent Bryan Johnson included the new stadium and track in his 2017 building plan that was unanimously approved by the school board in October 2017 for the additional county funds.
The district broke ground on a new track and field at Hixson High School last June and also completed work on Soddy-Daisy High School's track. Brainerd and Central high schools also will see renovated athletic facilities.
"There is a direct correlation between student activities and student achievement," Johnson said Thursday. "I want facilities such as these for every child in Hamilton County."
The building plan also includes the new Harrison Elementary and East Hamilton Middle — which will officially be voted on at next week's county commission meeting — as well as additions and renovations to the Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts, Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts, Lookout Valley Elementary, Normal Park Museum Magnet, Snow Hill Elementary and Tyner middle and high schools.