The Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts, located at the intersection of East Brainerd Road and Vance Road, operates in the old Elbert Long school building.
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The Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts, located at the intersection of East Brainerd Road and Vance Road, operates in the old Elbert Long school building.

Despite a 2017 capital building plan that promised to merge Tyner Middle School and Tyner Academy to provide Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts students relief from their aging building, none of the schools are any closer to seeing renovations.

The project, part of Superintendent Bryan Johnson's plan for using $110 million from the Hamilton County Commission, is on hold as the district awaits results of a $500,000 building audit by MGT Consulting.

Parents and students of CSLA, one of the district's top magnet schools, have been waiting for a new building for years.

The 70-year-old building is prone to water leaks, sits on a shifting foundation, is riddled with windows that don't seal, and isn't handicap accessible. A new school building was promised in a 1999 school facilities plan but was never built.

Now the district is awaiting recommendations from MGT before deciding whether to move forward with the 2017 plan to merge Tyner's middle and high schools and move CSLA into the former Tyner Middle School building.

"Last year, the system was moving in that direction," said Ken Bradshaw, the district's chief operations officer. "But then we received a lot of capital improvement requests district wide, so we decided to reach out to a consultant to come and do a more system-wide study to make sure we are moving in the right direction."

Bradshaw said all three buildings have significant concerns, and the district wants to make sure that the merger is the right course of action.

"The goal is not to make any improvements that MGT might turn around and say the building may need to be repurposed," Bradshaw said.

Building renderings for the merged Tyner middle and high school were revealed in November 2017, with an estimated completion date of January 2020.

Now, leaders for all three schools are preparing to start the school year once again in their current, aging spaces.

School board member Tucker McClendon, who represents CSLA, is familiar with parent concerns and has heard from CSLA advocates frequently.

He acknowledged their frustration and said he hopes the district will have a definite plan in the next six to 12 months.

"We know that both of those schools are in desperate need of upgrades and upkeep, and I think I'm committed to making sure that we do that in the next year or so," he said. "When you look at CSLA, they've been promised a new building since 1999, so I think they have every right to be skeptical. I truly believe in the next year or even in the next six months we'll have a clearer plan."

Superintendent Bryan Johnson's proposed $443 million budget for fiscal year 2020 includes $15 million from the district's fund balance for capital maintenance projects across the district, but the most current approved project list does not include funds for Tyner or CSLA.

McClendon said there's a possibility that CSLA could see its own new building, depending on MGT's recommendations.

"There's a good chance that CSLA could get their own building and there's equally a chance we do what we planned to do," he said. "We need to make sure we are doing everything we can to make a financially sound decision. When you look at it, CSLA and Tyner are both proud communities and all have their wants and their needs, and I think that is something that wasn't necessarily thought about during the original plan."

Bradshaw said MGT consultants already have visited every building in the district, met with principals or other stakeholders and provided the district with preliminary feedback.

The consulting group is also conducting a demographic growth study to look at what schools might see increased enrollment and what areas of Hamilton County might need more schools in the coming years. The results of both studies and recommendations for the district and the school board are expected in July, Bradshaw said.

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