Supt. Rick Smith and his staff outlined millions of dollars in school facility needs at a meeting of the Hamilton County Board of Education Facilities Committee on Monday afternoon.
The superintendent said that because of the recent growth in the eastern part of the county, strain has been put on existing schools. Aug. 15 of this year, five elementary schools will be affected by rezoning which will allow more students to attend Wolftever Creek Elementary. Because of a grandfather clause these students will not immediately be required to move, but if they did all choose to, the enrollment at the school would increase from 464 today to 689 resulting in the need for added space. Not only additional classrooms will be needed at the school, but also additional arts facilities. The cost in today’s dollars is estimated to be $4 million for adding 200-220 more students.
A completely new building is needed for combining Ganns Middle Valley Elementary currently with 80 students and Falling Water Elementary with 120 students. The new building will have a capacity for around 1,000 students. The increase in enrollment will be caused by reconfiguring the zone, not because of a lot of growth in the area, said Mr. Smith. The Ganns building is now 77 years old and the Falling Water facility is the oldest school building in the system at 102 years old. A lot of portable classrooms are in use at both schools. Property has already been purchased for the new building. This project would also need to consider exceptional needs. The cost for the new school will be around $25-$27 million and would take around 18 months to build in addition to the planning phase and timing for financing.
The superintendent said there is an awareness of growth that is taking place around Nolan Elementary on Signal Mountain. Development on one large tract of nearby property is already in progress and there is a real prospect of a second development in the area. In order to add 14 classrooms, the structure could be built out on both ends for a cost of $4-$5 million.
Currently, the entire school is housed in portable classrooms at Sale Creek Middle/High. An addition at this school would include not only classroom space but also enhancements. The cost to do this work would be in the neighborhood of $20 million.
The only two projects still on a facilities plan made in 1998 are Ganns and Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts (CSLA). Mr. Smith said that he believes this school will be able to help with overcrowded situations in the eastern part of the county since it is highly sought after and students could come from eastern Hamilton County. “They do a phenomenal job,” have a lot of students applying and have a waiting list for students, he told the committee. Students enrolled come from all nine school districts in Hamilton County, but the balance of students from particular districts vary each year since enrollment is chosen by lottery.
The school sits on 35 acres of good property that can be used for building a new large facility to house students enrolled in Pre-K through High School. Construction costs from the groundup, would be $40 million, plus.
Recent growth has taken place in the East Hamilton area and, with expectations that it will continue to do so, Superintendent Smith said there is no desire to re-zone and move students again. Therefore, he sees the need for a new middle school in the area to handle the population growth.
Mr. Smith recommended a meeting of the Facilities Committee and the County Commission's Education Committee in order to move these building projects forward.
In addition to the buildings themselves, there have been requests from multiple schools for lighting ball fields which would incur a large expense. It was decided that the whole school board should be involved in the discussion of these requests.
School security was another topic addressed at the meeting Monday. The suggestion was made, to get cost estimates for placing a camera and buzzer at the main entrance of each school building. The development of an overall policy that would be standardized for the whole school system is needed. The goal is for all schools to have the same security, not just the more affluent ones. The cost estimates per school as of now are from $5,000-$10,000. The entire board needs to be involved in making the decisions about what security plans to use, it was stated. The needs may vary for different schools such as those with multiple buildings, or the ones that have portable classrooms.
This will be a culture change for the Hamilton County Schools and a major consideration, it was said, since this is now a system that encourages participation. The decision will affect how the public interacts with the schools because it will restrict movement.
In other business, an update was given on unused property. The old Ooltewah Elementary and Summit Center have both been put on the Hamilton County surplus property auction. Bids will open on Feb. 15. There is no obligation to accept any bid.
Request for Proposals have been issued for Piney Woods because it is considered to be a property with the potential for multiple uses, so it will not be included in the property auction. A neighborhood association is interested in it, and it has also been considered for use as a community center.
The old East Lake Elementary has been vacant since 2001. It is in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Superintendent Smith has asked for one more RFP and, if none is received, to consider demolition. He said it is hard to keep the building boarded up, vandalism is rampant, and it has been housing the homeless. Because this building is in the middle of a residential neighborhood, use of the property is limited.
An update was given for the successful STEM school located on the campus of Chattanooga State. Negotiations have been made to acquire the addition of 17,000 square feet to combine with the 14,000 square feet currently in use. The strong program there centers on the project-based learning model. The additional space will complete plans for that school.