John Shearer: Seeing Signal Mountain High For The First Time

Friday, August 11, 2017 - by John Shearer

The fact that the Signal Mountain schools have been in the local news lately as residents there look at possibly forming their own school district started me thinking.
 
Primarily, it made me curious to see what the high school looks like in person, because I have never seen it up close before.
 
As a result, I decided to drive by it and take some pictures while up on the mountain last Saturday for the World’s Longest Yard Sale.
 
It was a longer-than-expected drive down Shackleford Ridge Road to get there, and I realized it might take even some residents of the mountain at least 10 minutes or more to get there.

 
Because of its out-of-the-way location on top of the scenic mountain, I realized that a lot of Chattanoogans from other parts of town who don’t have children playing sports against Signal Mountain High or Middle School have not seen it, either.
 
As a result, those pictures of the outside of the school that accompany this brief story are intended for them, too.
 
As I expected, it is a nice brick school. It has a central entrance and is two stories tall. It actually resembles a little more the brick schools of old than some other local schools built in the last 20 or 30 years. 
 
The long building houses both the Signal Mountain high and middle schools in one structure.
 
A real eye-catcher is the statue of an eagle, the school’s nickname and symbol, on the sidewalk between the main entrance and the gymnasium.
 
The architect for the school was Derthick, Henley and Wilkerson (DH&W), who have also done such other recent educational projects as Middle Valley Elementary, Heritage High in North Georgia and the new UTC Library.
 
On its website, the architectural firm describes the 262,000-square-foot Signal Mountain High/Middle High building as being carefully knit into the existing recreation area.
 
“The topography organizes the Middle and High School functions along a major spine, while separating academic and athletic areas by floor levels,” the website says.
 
It adds that the building was built with infrastructure to support any additions that could help house a total capacity of 1,500 students.
 
The athletic fields are terraced as one enters the school grounds. The way they are cut out of the woods reminds me of a golf course built on the far edge of suburbia.
 
The older Nolan Elementary is back closer to the Town of Signal Mountain along the same road.
 
The then-$40 million Signal Mountain High/Middle High building had been dedicated in late July 2008. The festivities had an emotional tone due to the fact that structure had been planned for so long. Some had wondered if a high school for the mountain would ever become a reality.
 
Among those proud officials on hand were Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey, Hamilton County Commissioner Richard Casavant, Hamilton County school board member Chip Baker and then-Signal Mountain principal Ed Gravitte.
 
Mr. Gravitte, who had started on Signal Mountain as a middle school teacher at the old location just off Signal Mountain Boulevard, seemed especially touched, as he said he had dreamed of one day becoming a principal of such a school.
 
“What a day!” he said to a school auditorium crowd of around 400 waiting to enjoy the open house.
 
While the feeling in 2008 was one of collective excitement, now the Signal Mountain schools issue regarding whether a separate district should be formed seems to have people throughout Hamilton County noisily taking sides.
 
But last Saturday, in contrast to the traffic jams on Highway 127 a couple of miles or so away, it was quiet around the school except for an occasional other vehicle driving through the parking lot while I took a few pictures.
 
This past week, the sounds of energetic middle school and high school students returned, and some noise will likely be heard in the near future as well from adults debating whether a separate school district should be formed.  
 
Jcshearer2@comcast.net


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