Hamilton County commissioners voted Wednesday to clear the county mayor to spend $555,500 for seven acres adjacent to Ganns Middle Valley Elementary School for a future replacement school.
The lone dissenter, Commissioner Tim Boyd, said he couldn't support any land purchase for the school system until Superintendent Rick Smith or his staff brought the facilities plan the commission requested in June. The commission asked for the plan as a condition of a vote to halt the architect selection for a new East Brainerd Elementary School.
"It seems like, in talking with my board member representative, he has not heard anything presented to the board on either East Brainerd Elementary or the Ganns Middle Valley purchase," Boyd said.
In June, commissioners voted 7-2 to stop the architect selection for a new East Brainerd Elementary, complaining that neither they nor most of the school board were informed about a proposed three-way land swap between the school system, the city of Chattanooga and the Chattanooga Housing Authority involving the elementary's current site, which is appraised at least $2.3 million.
Smith told Boyd that he's waiting until after today's election to bring the issues to the school board. Four school board seats are up for grabs today, and incumbents are not running in two of the races so at least two new members will be joining the board in September.
Smith said the matter is coming up now because "it is very difficult to find property the size to build a school."
The deal involves five parcels with purchase prices ranging from $38,500 to $180,000 apiece. The current site of the 75-year-old elementary school is 10 acres, and the new purchase will bring it to a total of 17 acres.
Boyd questioned the $555,500 purchase price for the land next to Ganns, which he said is $90,000 more than fair market value.
County Property Manager Paul Parker said the total is about 17 percent above fair market value, which is not an unusual amount when negotiating with owners.
Commission Chairman Larry Henry gave examples of other properties that commissioners prospectively purchased for schools that haven't been built yet.
"It's not a big deal when we have available property to buy," Henry said.
The school system's future plan is to combine Ganns and Falling Water elementaries in the new school, while increasing the number at Soddy Elementary School, Smith said.
The school, estimated to cost about $23 million, is in the second phase of the system's $247 million facilities plan, but the second and third phases have not yet been approved by the school board.
Commissioner Greg Beck said he intended to vote against the purchase of the land until he had assurances that the school system would obtain land for a new Howard School stadium and track. CHA owned land next to Howard and it was part of the three-way land swap commissioners threw a wrench into in June.
But Beck chose to support buying the land next to Ganns anyway, saying after Wednesday's meeting that he intends to renew talks with Smith and the city of Chattanooga, which now owns the CHA's former Poss Homes site adjacent to Howard.
"I have an interest in Poss Homes," Smith said. "That piece of property is obviously the place to look to."
Commissioner Mitch McClure, who represents the district where Ganns sits and has long family ties to the current school, said he's committing $50,000 of his $100,000 in discretionary funds for the library and technology at the new school once it's built.
After the meeting, Smith addressed the East Brainerd Elementary standstill.
"We need to move on this situation if we're still intending to open a new East Brainerd Elementary in 2014," Smith said.
A committee has narrowed the list of architect applicants to three, but County Mayor Jim Coppinger and Smith have not yet selected a finalist to recommend to the commission.