Roy Exum: Let’s Share Drawings

Thursday, November 9, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I have a good number of friends who are good architects and I, for one, love most of the projects that come off their drawing tables. I love stately and regal and classical but just as we all have different tastes, I have found that beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. For instance, the new library building at UTC is gorgeous while the STEM center on the same campus is, to me, the ugliest structure in all of Chattanooga. Both were designed by architects.

There was a big announcement on Wednesday that our long-ignored public schools will soon have visible proof that new facilities are springing up all across town. In Tyner, the Department of Education will consolidate Tyner’s middle and high school into one vastly-improved building, which will enable the Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts to expand to K-12 in the other totally-renovated building.

We have new schools being built in East Brainerd, Harrison, a middle school at Howard and tons of renovations but here’s the part I don’t get – why does an architect need to start from scratch on each project? We have schools being replaced with new buildings all over the state and it seems to me we could save a lot of money if we could travel to other cities, look at their schools, and say, “I’ll give you a handsome sum for a complete set of drawings that were used to build that elementary school on Kingston Pike.”

It’s exactly like buying a used car – brother, a car is a car. That’s right; let’s find three or four new schools in the state built for, let’s say, 900 students. Decide on the one you want and buy that set of plans “as is” for far less than new ones cost. And they both do the exact same thing. . I don’t care where you go in Tennessee because you’ll find that 12-inches-equals-one foot is pretty universal.

This is easy: when it comes time to decide on which architect to use, have a “proven” entry division where architects from all across Tennessee can submit drawings of buildings already standing. Limit it to just architects in Tennessee – no other states – and we could save hundreds of thousands in “design fees” to be used on other maintenance projects.

Believe it or not, you can go online and buy complete plans – including electric, plumbing, and HVAC – in less than an hour. I’m telling you that if I was “king,” I’d have earth-movers at the Harrison Elementary site within two weeks and be pouring concrete by Jan. 1. I am so sick and tired of “this is how we have always done it” it begs –to quote new superintendent Bryan Johnson – that we must “change the culture.”

Another thought: let’s replicate an HCDE facility. We already own the plans and the district has a wide range of architectural drawings on file. What’s wrong with Harrison Elementary looking identical to another county school? Use different paint colors and not one-in-100 will ever notice.

Johnson was asked about the future of the soon-to-be vacated CSLA, Hillcrest, Harrison and Lakeside and he said he might keep some of the properties for “future development.”

Common sense dictates the HCDE should scrap or sell everything that doesn’t produce a value or gain. Take every penny of what is sold and earmark it for future facilities. There should be a three-year and a 10-year growth plan set in place for future facilities, as well as maintenance and building improvements. Both plans should be carefully combed throughout each year and there should be a provision in place if some chemistry lab catches fire or “an act of God” were to occur on a building roof.

To be prudent, we know the next area of growth is the Highway 27 corridor, up through Red Bank towards Soddy Daisy. I would hire a commercial real estate agent to find a plot of ground for a new school because the need is virtually guaranteed. I am confident “the Soddy Bridge” across the Tennessee River will happen. Always buy dirt and stocks low and sell high. Land prices will explode when the new bridge is announced. Plan for it.

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The biggest racket in education is text books. The lobbyists have conned the Legislature into making it a law that new versions of the same Algebra and American History must be replaced every four years or whatever it is. This is Tom Foolery at its worse and is nothing more than a money grab.

The school board should demand the HCDE embrace some type of universal text books that can be used year in-year out. Educators across America will admit very little has changed in U.S. history because what happened really happened! But the brazen book merchants sell at $150 per book on physics and it goes “Mission Impossible” six months after the lesson. That’s right, the software destroys itself after the kid pays “a buck fifty” and makes a C.

* * *

It took a big swallow of courage for the County Commission to toss another $10 million into the school’s renovation package – and I love that we are finally addressing football needs at Howard and building some eight-lane tracks. But we still haven’t addressed the biggest flaw in our school district.

Howard High’s football team will play no more than six varsity games on the new field in a year. There isn’t a day that goes by in Hamilton County that students are not being assessed fees. No kid in any public school should be assessed a fee for anything. It’s up to HCDE to supply a total education for one and all – regardless of ability to pay -- and to take as much as a dollar from a child is “double taxation.”

The school board should eat all remaining fees and ban any type of money exchange, be it for do-nuts or trumpet rental, effective Jan. 1. For any type of authority figure to cower a second-grader because he has no money makes me livid.

Stop all fees now.

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