A tax increase to support the construction of new schools and the upkeep of current schools was discussed during a Hamilton County School Board meeting Thursday afternoon.
Though nothing has been planned yet, several board members and parents agreed that the increase would be necessary in the future. The board recently put together a priority facilities list for the first time since 1999. The list contains six schools that officials said are in great need of either renovations or a new building because of both growth and age.
For all six projects to be completed, the estimated total cost would be $140 million. Some of the projects were on the last priority facilities list, still not completed.
Board Chairman Mike Evatt said, "We can consolidate a lot of schools, but that's not going to take care of the growth in the eastern part of the county."
Board member George Ricks Sr. said, "The reality is that we do have schools all over this county that do have wide discrepancies." When discussing building new schools, he asked, "Why add to that inventory if we can't take care of what we have already?"
He also said, "There is an issue of equity." He told the board that working to improve some schools but not others would be asking parts of the community to pay for something they are not getting.
However, he told the Board not to be afraid of asking people to vote for a tax increase. He said the County Commission would most likely not support it and that parents who wanted it would have to vote for people who thought the same way.
Superintendent Rick Smith said there has not been any increase in the school budget other than normal growth since 2006.
The list of priority facilities starts with a project to combine Ganns Middle Valley Elementary and Falling Water Elementary, two schools in buildings that are respectively 77 and 102 years old. The new school would be at the current site of Ganns, and the cost would total $26 million.
Next on the list is Wolftever Elementary, which needs expansion work due to the population growth in the eastern part of Hamilton County. This cost would be approximately $5 million.
Third is replacing the building for the Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts. Currently, the school is an award winning and nationally recognized K-8 magnet school. Students must apply and are selected by lottery; the wait list is already at 1,283 students. If a new building were built, the school would be able to expand to K-12. The approximate cost is $45 million.
However, board member Rhonda Thurman suggested, instead of spending $45 million on a new building, moving CSLA to the Tyner High School and Middle School facility and rezoning students that attend Tyner.
Expanding Nolan Elementary at a cost of $5 million is the fourth priority, and the expansion of Sale Creek Middle/High is the fifth. Sale Creek has had a 28 percent enrollment increase since 2008, and currently the entire middle school is in portable classrooms. The work here would cost approximately $20 million.
Last on the list is East Hamilton Middle/High. For this project, the School Board wants to convert the current buildings into a high school and construct a new building for the middle school. This project would cost approximately $45 million.
Superintendent Rick Smith has the floor
- Photo2 by Hollie Webb