Students and parents at Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts may wonder if this is just another feint or if it's the real thing.
Members of the Hamilton County Board of Education voted last week to build a new campus for the magnet school on the site of Lakeside Academy, which will be merging into Harrison Elementary School once its new building is completed in early 2021.
In the last several years, CSLA, currently located in a deteriorating structure on East Brainerd Road and promised a new building for more than two decades, was projected:
* To occupy a new building on its current site, which, with 36 acres, would be plenty large enough to accommodate it.
* To move into a renovated Tyner Middle Academy, which would be absorbed into a middle-high school on the Tyner High School campus across the street.
* To expand to a new school, which would be built on the campus of what is now Brainerd High School.
* To relocate to the former Sears building at Northgate Mall, which would be renovated to accommodate a new K-12 facility.
All those associated with CSLA over the last two decades must have felt like they were a part of the shtick of the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield. They "can't get no respect."
The school's day for respect is coming, although the approval of the site in a 6-3 vote was a little disconcerting and apparently is due, at least in part, to ongoing communication problems between school board and Hamilton County Commission members.
Two members of the board said they didn't appreciate Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd reaching out to board members about potential sites for the school.
To be clear, we weren't privy who he called and what he said, but shouldn't commission members and board members be helping each other? Since the commission is the funding body for the school board, it seems to us the relationship should be mutually beneficial.
If Boyd is trying to find a location for a school that currently lies in his commission district, and for which he has advocated since he has been on the commission, wouldn't his expertise in construction, or leads he may have about site preparation or simply his suggestions be welcome? On the other hand, he should be inclusive in all those he calls on the board.
Even the public has come to realize there are serious communication problems between the two bodies. Most of the individual board members get along with the commission member who represents the same district, but as a whole something breaks down. There is an apparent lack of trust or an inability to honestly discuss the issues that confront the school district.
Tucker McClendon, school board representative for District 8, which Boyd also represents, said each county commissioner has his or her own way of operating.
"They're trying to do what's best for their district," he said, "but not everybody's going to agree on that [method]. What happened here — [Boyd] was operating in the best way he thought."
McClendon said a CSLA parent group that had done extensive research on potential moves brought him the idea about the Lakeside site.
"There was no plan" for what the property would be used for once the school merged with Harrison Elementary, he said. "We hadn't got that far."
Now, with things moving forward, it means the school— on Jersey Pike but a stone's throw from busy Highway 58 — will only move six miles from its current campus and would be more accessible to students from the Harrison, Hixson and Soddy-Daisy areas but not that much farther out for the students currently attending.
McClendon said county commissioners will need to approve the project at some point, but "it shouldn't be a problem. They're already doing drawings. They're on a very tight schedule. It's going to be a quick process, a quick turnaround."
The hope is that the facility will open for the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year.
The K-12 facility also will provide addition magnet school seats for those in the area who want greater education choices for their children.
The projected $26.5 million cost of the project is considerably less than the $30-$35 million cost of a new building on the current CSLA site and less than the $38 million estimate for renovation of the Sears building at Northgate. And since the district has $28 million for the project (when it was expected to move to the old Tyner Middle building) from a 2017 bond funding, it can be built with no new money being allocated.
McClendon said of the projected cost, renovations on the original 1959 Lakeside school will run around $5 million. The two-story middle-high wing will cost around $18 million, and the 19.83-acre site also will afford a regulation-sized gymnasium, cafeteria, playgrounds and soccer field.
It took too long in coming, and the debate through the years was too fractious, but we believe the board's decision last week to move ahead will pay off in expanding one of the district's top schools in order to educate an even wider group of county students.
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