Sixty years after Brainerd High School opened and 50 years after riots marked its increased racial integration, the school has become a pawn on a chessboard in a proposed Hamilton County facilities master plan.
In the first master plan submitted by MGT Consulting Group, which was tasked to create a blueprint by the Hamilton County Board of Education, the school was marked for closure. Its 600-plus students were to be dispersed to Tyner, East Ridge and Howard high schools.
Its buildings were to be repurposed for use by magnet schools Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences (CSAS) and Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts (CSLA).
That idea — and the closure of Dalewood Middle School and Barger Elementary School, all in the Brainerd community — went over like a lead balloon with residents of the area.
It made sense from efficiency and capacity standpoints, but residents said it hollowed out their section of town. Many said it appeared black families — and all three schools had heavy black majorities — were being treated unfavorably.
Understandably, they made their feelings known at community meetings, which had been scheduled to gauge opinions and to help guide revisions to the master plan.
Now, the first revisions have been made public, and we're not sure if things aren't more muddled.
Oh, the plan saves Brainerd High but moves it a mile away to the current site of Dalewood, where a new building would be built on a site nearly two-thirds smaller than the school's current acreage. With the need for sports fields and more parking, the site appears wholly inadequate.
At the site of Brainerd High, which has 53 acres and extant sports fields, the current building would be razed and a new one built for a combined K-12 school encompassing performing arts magnet schools Barger Academy and Chattanooga High Center for Creative Arts (CCS). In the first master plan proposal, CCS was slated to move to Dalewood Middle School, and Normal Park Upper and Lower schools were to move into the CCS building.
In the first revision, though, CSAS and CSLA are left homeless, designated TBD (to be determined).
At this point the schools and buildings are just pawns on a chessboard, and not a dime has been allocated, so here are a few thoughts that encompass most of the large pieces in play:
* If new buildings already are being proposed at the Dalewood and Brainerd sites, and if the plan is determined to move CCS to the south side of the river, one option is to go back to the first proposal and build a K-12 performing arts magnet on the Dalewood site rather than retrofitting it to the current building.
* A second option for the Dalewood site is to build a new CSAS there. Since the school does not require a football field, the site becomes more attractive. However, that would leave a K-12 performing arts magnet school in the to-be-determined status.
* Use the current 36-acre CSLA site to do what has been planned for the better part of a decade — build a new K-12 CSLA there. Depending on how the new building is sited, it even might be constructed while the current school is in use. The first master plan submitted by MGT had not utilized the CSLA property but kept it in abeyance for a future school.
* Retrotfit the Brainerd High building to right-size the high school or to make it a middle/high. Or raze the current building and construct both Brainerd High and CSAS on different parts of the large campus.
Community members will be able to offer their feedback on the master plan revisions and any other suggestions they have for right-sizing the district at 6 p.m. meetings on Jan. 28 at Tyner Academy or Jan. 29 at Brown Middle School.
The facilities master plan is not the only item the school board will have to deal with in the next few months. Several school board members want to consider extending Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson's contract, and budget meetings next month are sure to include talk of teacher salary increases after those initially proposed were axed in this year's budget in favor of hiring additional staff members and giving one-time bonuses.
In our estimation, the superintendent is one of the region's brightest young faces in education, and it would pay dividends to extend his contract. The district's overall test scores are improving, a sense of energy pervades the administration, and long-term plans need a familiar and steady hand guiding them.
The district budget again is likely to seek new monies for positions and higher salaries. Accommodating some of those requests in the three-year strategic plan that is expected to be presented in late March might go a long way toward convincing Johnson to stay. We don't know what those budget asks might require in terms of a tax increase, but it's a conversation that is likely to be had.
Buckle up. With everything in play, it's likely to be a bumpy ride.