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Staff Photo By Erin O. Smith / Tyner High Academy students take part in a ribbon cutting for their new learning lab, a part of the school's Future Ready Institute on technology and networking, in 2019.

We have to admit we rolled our eyes when we saw that race was insinuated by a Hamilton County commissioner earlier this week with the fact the powers that be haven't snapped their fingers and wished a new Tyner Academy in place.

In the frequently tossed off words of President Joe Biden, "C'mon, man."

Shortly after school started earlier this month, Tyner officials had to close the building that houses the school's freshman academy due to water leaks. Days later, to highlight the condition of the building, a number of seniors walked out of school, a gesture that brought praise from several Hamilton County Board of Education members.

On the same day as the school board members' comments, the body voted to approve hiring an architect to design a new building for the school.

Only six days later — after hearing Tyner students address the commission and Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger say the county was trying to get to the new school as soon as was financially feasible — Hamilton County Commissioner Warren Mackey indicated the body had done its job only "for certain parts of the county."

The only thing he forgot to do was hold up his race card.

Even as he made his veiled statement, Mackey knew it not to be true. He knew the county had recently opened a new building for the decidedly mixed Harrison Elementary School, had renovated the former Howard Middle School to open a new largely Black Howard Connect Academy, had built a new stadium for the largely Black Howard School and in recent years had built a new largely Black Orchard Knob Elementary School.

He also knew the reason Hamilton County recently built and opened a new mostly white East Hamilton Middle School was because East Hamilton Middle-High was severely overcrowded and that the East Hamilton County area was quickly growing.

Tyner, on the other hand, is not overcrowded but is, in fact, high on the list of school building projects for the county.

The school's students, at the commission meeting, referenced a 2017 plan put forward by now-former Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson, which foresaw a new Tyner Middle-High building finished by 2020. That plan, now long abandoned, had Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts (CSLA) moving to a renovated Tyner Middle School, and the middle school students moving across the street to Tyner Academy.

But CSLA, which has been promised a new building for more than two decades, eventually will be moving to the renovated former Lakeside Academy. In those 20 years at its current 70-plus year-old building, though, students have endured peeling paint, leaking roofs, sticking windows, unusable toilets, and, according to newspaper archives, serious mold problems.

In 2003, Joe Garner of Mold Environmental Consultants in Chattanooga said he had helped several CSLA parents who believed mold caused their children to become ill. "There are still seven types of mold airborne after (the school) was cleaned up," he said, "and this is affecting the lungs of whoever goes into the library."

Given all that, we thought it was interesting that Hamilton County Commissioner David Sharpe seemed to back Mackey.

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

That's exactly what CSLA students have gone through.

The fact is, Coppinger, all commissioners and all school board members would like to have a new school as quickly as possible. But there's the matter of approving and hiring an architect, determining how the county will pay for it in an era of high inflation (especially in construction costs), allocating money for it, and building it. They can't just snap their fingers and make it happen.

As the mayor said, "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."

However, when a county commissioner breathes racially charged statements into the discussion — on top of a city councilwoman's statement earlier this week that the former city and county schools should separate because Black schools are "not getting the resources for them to be successful" — it only builds mistrust and divides people.

Going forward, we hope such statements cease and that the school board and county commission work together to show students at Tyner they won't have to wait as long as CSLA students have for a new school.

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