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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd/ Walkways across Tyner Road are a concern for Harris as students move between the Academy and Middle School building. Tyner Academy Principal Gerald Harris gave the Times Free Press a tour of the school's facilities on December 6, 2019.

The Hamilton County Commission discussed the state of Tyner Academy on Wednesday and disagreed on the progress of facilities work on schools.

The discussion came after Tyner seniors addressed the commissioners and requested that they prioritize building a new school.

Seniors Timetrius Lansden, Kaylea Moore and Jaylan Sims — who addressed the school board last week — told the commission that their school's mold-covered walls and leaking roof create a stressful learning environment for students and teachers.

Lansden told the commission that a report listed December 2017 as the start date for the new Tyner Academy to be built with a completion date of January 2020, and that the lack of progress was disappointing to students.

"Seeing that we are still left on the list and our school is still not being built, it really makes us wonder why hasn't our school been built yet?" Lansden said. "We are in classrooms that are technically not safe. Our learning environment is not safe. We are seeing our roof basically fall apart."

The report was the district's capital maintenance plan from 2017, which initially planned for Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts to move into the Tyner Middle Academy building.

Another report, from MGT Consulting Group in 2019, recommended demolishing both Tyner Middle School and Tyner High School and building a new school to house grades 6-12, along with moving CSLA to a new site.

Mayor Jim Coppinger and Commissioner Tim Boyd, R-Chattanooga, said the commission has done its best to meet schools' facilities needs in the district.

Coppinger said the commission voted in 2017 to fund improvements and new schools, but ran out of money before getting to Tyner.

"I don't want the students or anybody in the community or anybody in this county to think that the school system hasn't made a real effort to fix that situation, but also they need to know that this commission has allocated money in the past, and again, an 8-1 vote is a pretty strong vote in favor of doing it and that's what was done," Coppinger said.

Boyd said he agreed with the students that there was no question that the school needed fixing. But he said school facilities are an ongoing issue in the county and that the commission's agenda covers more than just public education.

"The need was for CSLA for 20 years," Boyd said. "It's just getting the funding in place to make it happen. So we're working as fast as we can. It's a never-ending story. We've got 70-something buildings to deal with, and we've got a finite amount of money."

CSLA was the lowest-ranked school in terms of building condition at 44%, according to the MGT report, with Tyner Middle at 47% and Tyner High School at 57%.

Construction is underway for a new CSLA at the site of the former Lakeside Academy, but a lack of change at Tyner led to seniors walking out of class last week in response to the school's 400 building closing because of water leaks.

Commissioners Warren Mackey, D-Chattanooga, and David Sharpe, D-Chattanooga, disagreed with Boyd that the commission had done enough in providing adequate school facilities.

"I'm listening to these platitudes being handed out, statements being made like 'this commission is doing its job.' It has, but for certain parts of this county," Mackey told the commission.

Sharpe said he agreed with Mackey and that the commission needed to act urgently to address facilities needs at Tyner and other schools in the district.

"If your kid is at Tyner High School right now where the wall's falling in, the roof's leaking, water running down the walls and mold growing on them and you tell me we've done our job, I don't believe you'd do that," Sharpe said.

The commission also heard from Hamilton County Schools officials Justin Witt, director of maintenance and operations, and Justin Robertson, interim deputy superintendent, who said they wanted to start a conversation with commissioners about the Tyner project.

Robertson told the commission that the district's plan to use $25 million in federal coronavirus relief money to build the new school had been pre-approved by the state department of education and approved by the school board.

The district wants to hire an architect, to be approved by the commission, and then allocate money toward the project, Witt said. The project also will include athletic fields, which had been left out of previous school construction projects such as East Hamilton High School and added in later.

Asked by Boyd about the estimated cost to build a new Tyner Middle/High School, Robertson said it will likely cost $65-70 million, but that will become clearer once the school system brings in an architect.

The federal coronavirus relief funds require the new building be open for operation by August 2024.

Contact Anika Chaturvedi at achaturvedi@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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