County School Board Puts New Harrison Elementary At Top Of School Construction List; Is Ahead Of New CSLA, New East Hamilton Middle

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The County School Board on Thursday night put the 79-year-old Harrison Elementary School at the top of the list for replacement at a projected cost of $35 million. It would combine Harrison and Hillcrest elementaries and also take some of the Lakeside students.

Second on the list was a new Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts, also in an aging building in East Brainerd. That cost would be over $64 million for a K-12 school to serve 1,600 students - up from the present 462 at the magnet school.

Third was a new East Hamilton Middle School to cost $45,120,000.  It would be designed for 1,200 students. There are currently around 800 in the middle school that is attached to East Hamilton High on Ooltewah-Ringgold Road.

David Testerman, who heads the school board's facilities committee, said the County Commission "has been asking for a list and now we are giving them one."

He said it is similar to a list he carries around in his car dating to 2011.

The board also set priorities on school additions.

Topping the list was Snow Hill Elementary, costing $7 million.

Second was adding on to Spring Creek Elementary in East Ridge - also tabbed at $7 million.

A third priority would be spending $6 million to reopen the closed Howard Middle School that is attached to Howard High.

Lower on the list would be new gyms for Lookout Valley Middle High, Central High and Hixson High, costing $6 million each.

Totals compiled by the school staff for needed new buildings and additions was $182,360,000.

Justin Witt, who oversees county school buildings, listed several million more in building needs at specific schools.

The projections for the new schools include furnishing them and building athletic facilities. Mr. Witt said it would be "a turn key job." 

Board member Joe Wingate cited a burst of growth in the East Brainerd, Ooltewah, Apison area with 1,735 new homes and 2,541 new apartments projected in the next decade. He said, "To say it is an explosion of growth is an understatement."

"They're coming, and I don't know how we're going to take care of that," he said.

 Rhonda Thurman said building a new CSLA would not help much with overcrowding since it is not a zoned school and draws from throughout the county. She also said that many spots at magnet schools are reserved for the children of teachers, staff and others.

She said the board should be looking at utilizing schools with plenty of space, such as Tyner, which was converted to a middle school.She said, "Tyner is right in the middle of all the growth." She said it once was a heavily-attended school, but it dropped off with the switch to a magnet school. 

Ms. Thurman also said that much space in the schools is taken up by pre-K programs, which she said the school system is not mandated to serve. She said other areas are taken for child care for staff and teachers. She said that should be moved to churches.

But Kathy Lennon said she supported constructing a large new CSLA, which had a large contingent at the board meeting. She said it presented "a great opportunity."

Mr. Wingate agreed with Ms. Thurman, saying, "CSLA is a phenomenal place, but unless it has a zone there is no guarantee that it would relieve overcrowding."

On setting the priority list, board members ranked the projects that were on the list. Attorney Scott Bennett counted up the votes by giving three points to a number one pick, two points to a number two and a point to a number three pick.

The tally was 24 for Harrison, 19 for CSLA and 16 for East Hamilton.

On the additions, it was 44 for Snow Hill, 42 for Howard and 34 for Spring Creek. It was 30 for Lookout Valley gym, 23 for the Central gym and 16 for the Hixson gym.



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