Disagreements Arise Over Proposed New Lake Forest Middle School

Tuesday, May 14, 2013 - by Sarah Ruf

Bradley County commissioners wrestled with the possibility of promising projected surplus money in the future to a new Lake Forest Middle School building around 2017 during their work session on Monday afternoon.

After hearing a recommendation from an ad hoc committee to approve $14 million in the future for a new Lake Forest Middle School building, commissioners discussed options for fixing the troubled current site or building a new school.

The real question — where the money will come from to pay for any changes.

Some were wary of allocating funds so far into the future.

Commissioner Ed Elkins objected to “soft costs” outside of an actual building that were included in the $14 million estimate offered by the school board, such as new school furnishings.

“I don’t think it makes sense to borrow money over a 20-year period to replace things that shouldn’t be included in that debt,”he said.

“We are talking so far into the future, it’s really hypothetical,” said County Mayor D. Gary Davis. “If this money doesn’t come in, we are cutting it close.”

County Mayor Davis said funding for the project would not become available until 2016 at the earliest, solely based on revenue projections.

Commissioner Charlotte Peak Jones said the school board should tell the commission if cuts are possible at their end. “ I don’t think it’s the commission’s burden to handle alone,” she said.

Some commissioners wanted to move forward with a new building because repairs alone would cost around $6 million.

Commissioner Robert Rominger was one of them. “Something should be done without wasting money,” he said.

Commissioner Bill Winters, a former school board member, said the board was already making cuts and that a partnership with the commission would be ideal. “I think they want to know we do want this (school),” he said.

Vice Chairman Jeff Yarber reminded the commission his child recently attended the school: “It’s in dire straits.”

As the school stands now, water leaks into classrooms, the roof needs repair and there is not enough insulation between the interior and exterior walls, said Commissioner Adam Lowe.

Making painful cuts to services may be necessary to prioritize, he said.

But county departments are already operating on bare-bones budgets right now, Chairman Louie Alford said.

“I’ll never vote to cut any county department period,” he said with emotion.

“I’ll cut the devil out of anything,” Commissioner Lowe laughed.

Commissioners also discussed the possibility of eliminating the animal control contract with the city of Cleveland, offering a potential savings of more than $300,000.

Another option would be to just scale back on vehicle expenditures and base percentages only on animals while excluding calls to animal control.

Terry Caywood and Bill Ledford were not present. The commission will vote at their next session Monday, May 20, at noon.

You can reach Sarah Ruf at sarahruf@yahoo.com.

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