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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / There is currently one extra classroom in the main building at Barger Academy that is sometimes used for physical education or is used as a regular classroom when the school is at full capacity Thursday, December 5, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Amid school closures and upheavals thanks to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the Hamilton County school board met Thursday night.

Again board members discussed the need for a plan for how to tackle its $1.36 billion deferred maintenance problem after a consultant presented final recommendations earlier this month.

Again board members skirted the issue of how to fund the $869 million, 10-year plan recommended by MGT Consulting Group.

And again the meeting ended with little clarity for the public.

Board members did agree that the district needs to move forward — and urgently — though.

School board member Tucker McClendon, of District 8, is taking on the planning of a board retreat to create a strategic facilities plan, as the board's facilities point person and several board members spoke of their desire to get started.

"I'm concerned that we still don't have a plan. I'm concerned about what's going to happen if we wait out these 10 years," said board member Joe Smith, of District 3. "I think we need to move forward. Its our job, us nine, to come up with a plan."

Board member Jenny Hill, of District 6, has led the push along with McClendon to draft an official process for how the board will adopt a 10-year plan. MGT's recommendations focused on efficient and effective operations and the plan included sweeping school closures, academic program moves and renovations.

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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Foundational problems can be seen around the lockers at Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts Tuesday, December 3, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Hill wants the board to walk away from such a planned retreat with a concrete direction for moving forward.

"I want a document like our [five-year] strategic plan that I as a board member can have in [my] hands for making decisions moving forward, something that our board has ratified that this is important," Hill said.

Hill also wants to ensure that the board is thinking long-term about the needs of the community, though chairman Joe Wingate, of District 7, also proposed the board move forward with "Phase Zero" of the recommended plan — which includes finding a new home for the Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts and adding an addition at the new Harrison Elementary School for current Lakeside Academy students.

"I want a common understanding of the quality of a Hamilton County facility, what we expect for every kid," Hill said. "We as a board are charged with thinking about not just this generation of students but the next one."

Smith also asked Superintendent Bryan Johnson and Chief Business Officer Brent Goldberg to think about how to allocate more funds to address capital needs right now in the next fiscal year's budget, but both Johnson and Goldberg cautioned the board about planning based off next year's revenue projections.

"We will be presenting revenue projections at the next work session. Based on what has happened in the past few days, I think those revenue expectations are going to be a lot less than what we expected them to be two days ago," Goldberg said.

A possible hint to what his proposed budget might look like, Johnson also said the district will have to "tighten up."

"We are going to have to tighten up, its coming, we are going to be able to do some of the things we wanted to do — it's just the reality of where we are," he said.

The school board has been discussing facilities for more than a year now. It contracted MGT in December of 2018 to conduct a comprehensive facilities audit and growth study of the county. MGT unveiled its first set of findings and recommendations in July 2019 and has amended those recommendations thanks to community feedback since.

The board has not yet set a date for its upcoming facilities retreat.

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

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