County School Board Members Say Unexpected Higher Price To Put CSLA At Northgate Mall Puts Damper On Project

Saturday, July 11, 2020

County School Board members said an unexpected price jump from developers for the Sears portion of Northgate Mall as a school site put a damper on the "out of the box" idea.

At a facilities committee meeting on Saturday, board members were told developers Bassam Issa and John Woods said they had paid $3.5 million for the Sears section, but that other expenses had moved the overall asking price to $6.4 million.

Justin Robertson, county schools chief operating officer, said the developers said add-on costs included having to buy a 20 percent interest from CBL & Associates that brought their costs to $4,375,000. They said there were also $300,000 in closing and interest expenses and $650,000 to secure all the parking rights for the section near the old Sears.

Their total became $5,325,000, and they built in a profit of around $1.1 million to get to the $6.4 million, it was stated.

The amount does not include the Penneys section of the mall.

Board member Karitsa Mosley Jones said, "I was excited at first - CSLA being a non-traditional school - until the new price point came up."

Joe Smith said, "It kind of shocked everybody." He said that earlier he had been excited about the prospect of bringing new energy to the troubled mall.

Rhonda Thurman stated, "We were kind of misled in the beginning. In reality, it cost a whole lot more. We were not told all of that."

Steve Highlander noted that is $24 million available for a new school project, but he said the $6.4 million would eat into a substantial portion of that. He said, "My concern is we don't need to proceed if we don't have the money."

He said Northgate Mall and Hamilton Place Mall appear to be emptying. "We may be getting a bargain in the near future."

Jenny Hill said, "I am still uncomfortable about the $1.1 million profit, but I weigh it as an overall savings to the county."

The plan would move CSLA from K-8 to a K-12 with capacity for 1,300 students. Ms. Thurman argued against adding another high school magnet school. Ms. Hill said she thought the board had decided that issue earlier.  

Mr. Robertson said pluses about the mall deal included "the walls are already in place. All the infrastructure is already up."

There was discussion about moving CSLA to the Lakeside School and the nearby Washington Alternative School building. Those two buildings are going out of use. Ms. Thursday said one of those buildings could house the CSLA elementary and the other the middle school. Ms. Jones said neighbors would not welcome another school at the site. 

Tucker McClendon, chairman of the facilities committee, asked the administration to come back with recommendations on three different options for CSLA. Northgate Mall, Lakeside/Washington) and a third of building at the current school site on East Brainerd Road.

Ms. Lennon said, "CSLA is my number one priority. It's been on the table since 2014, and it keeps getting pushed back." He said he hopes the board will reach a decision on the future of CSLA at the August board meeting.

Supt. Bryan Johnson said with several elementaries overcrowded in East Brainerd that the current CSLA site may be needed for a new elementary.

In other discussion, Dr. Johnson said significant progress had been made in placing a construction academy at the old Mary Ann Garber School, "then the pandemic struck." That project is now on hold.

Ms. Thurman argued against a project combining several elementary schools in the Rivermont/Red Bank/Hixson area. She said Rivermont Elementary had already undergone a renovation, and she said Alpine Crest was a successful neighborhood school and the only school actually located within the city limits of Red Bank.

Dr. Johnson said an overall aim had been to consolidate some schools and gain new efficiencies. He said Hamilton County has some 30 more schools that Rutherford County, though both are about the same size.

Ms. Lennon said the topography in Hamilton County is much different than the Murfreesboro area.

 

 


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