Dr. Robertson On Board For Using Gateway Building Both For Tech School And CCA And Include Howard Connect

  • Tuesday, November 28, 2023
  • Hannah Campbell

County School Supt. Dr. Justin Robertson told members of the School Board Facilities Committee on Monday that he is on board to relocate Center for Creative Arts to the Gateway Building alongside a career and technical school under the same roof, likened to a college with two institutes within. Entering sixth graders would begin with core classes before splitting into something like majors in performing arts or information technology.

He said the Gateway overhaul, estimated to be about $50 million, would be the most expensive of the county’s list of recommendations.

“CCA is an established program that we know will be successful,” he said. He called CCA “one of our strongest brands” and said, “We could make the facility match what it’s doing.”

He floated ideas to associate it with the nearby Tivoli Foundation.

Howard Connect’s 190 students could be absorbed into programs at Gateway and free up space at Howard School, which is at 185 percent capacity, he said.

"Whatever we did at Howard Connect is not attracting enough kids,” said Dr. Robertson as he named himself the “bad guy” by bringing up a hard topic.

The Center for Creative Arts has long occupied the old City High School on Dallas Road in North Chattanooga.

The county earlier bought the Gateway Building from BlueCross for $10 million. It was built during Urban Renewal at the Westside when the homes and businesses at Cameron Hill were demolished.

MERGING DALEWOOD MIDDLE AND BRAINERD HIGH GETS SUPPORT

The Brainerd High School recommendation to absorb Dalewood Middle School into a renovated and expanded 6-12 school would free the Dalewood building for use by full and crumbling Barger Academy, plus pre-K seats. School board member Karitsa Jones said the community is on board with the idea, as long as it’s done right.

“We want new,” she said. “We don’t want a re-do.” A $20 million - or $30-million renovation would include a new wing, an auxiliary gym and other athletic facilities at the Brainerd property.

“We’d better follow through as a board on whatever we promise in that community,” said board member Marco Perez, who said he picked up on a lack of trust at the community meetings.

But care would have to be taken with the school’s new name.

“Dalewood is a neighborhood name in that community, not just a school name,” said Ms. Jones.

Brainerd is at 69 percent capacity. Dalewood is at 41 percent capacity. Barger would drop from 104 percent capacity in its current building to 60 percent in the Dalewood building.

“I think it’s a great idea and it’s one we had not thought of,” Dr. Robertson said. The Brainerd project would be complete in the first two years and the Dalewood building could be made ready for Barger as soon as one year after that, he said.

The 6-12 model at Brainerd High School would take about half of Orchard Knob Middle School’s students, dropping its population down to about 130, Dr. Robertson said. Currently Dalewood and Orchard Knob both feed in to Brainerd.

Dr. Robertson said he expects a new and exciting thing for Orchard Knob to reveal itself in the coming months.

REPLACE SODDY DAISY MIDDLE SCHOOL

Several members of the school board sided with school board member Rhonda Thurman, who said she wants a new Soddy Daisy Middle School to be built on the current 35-acre middle school property, and wants Soddy Daisy High School to stay where it is, untouched.

The county’s recommendation says to join Soddy Daisy Middle and High at the current high school property.

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” said Board Chairman Joe Smith. “I don’t get this idea at all about going up there on the hill.”

He said the community has been promised a new middle school for six years, and that families are choosing other schools because the middle school is in such disrepair.

“I think it’s an easy fix,” he said.

“We don’t need the Taj Mahal,” Ms. Thurman said. “We’re not that kind of people.”

Money and energy at the high school should be spent on traffic and safer ingress and egress, she said.

School Board member Gary Kuehn said the Soddy Daisy Middle-High campus doesn’t fit the shrinking model that Brainerd has. Soddy Daisy’s growth means building more schools, not condensing them, he said.

“Their numbers don’t warrant a six through 12 campus,” he said.

It was also stated that Loftis Middle School students would be de facto outsiders joining the Soddy Daisy crowd, and that shared middle-high school athletic fields would not give athletes enough space.

Ms. Thurman said she has been researching and planning such a new middle school for years, even talking with the city of Soddy Daisy and a church next door to get bits of property to widen the entrance.

“I still think that’s the best option,” she said. “I do not want to be caught like we were in East Brainerd.”

EXPAND THRASHER ELEMENTARY TO KEEP PACE WITH GROWTH

Mr. Perez accepted the county recommendation for an addition at Thrasher Elementary School, which is at capacity with 620 students.

Dr. Robertson said, “You’re going to have to put an addition at Thrasher no matter what,” he said. He said an addition could be packaged with a facelift for the front of the building, with traffic rerouted around the back of the school.

Mr. Perez asked for consideration to widen and build new roads at the high school property, which is owned by the school district, state, parks and recreation and the Town of Signal Mountain, meaning no one has tackled it yet.

Dr. Robertson acknowledged that Signal Mountain may need another elementary school in 10 years warranting a property search.

“That is something that we probably need to be charged with,” Dr. Robertson said.

NEXT STEPS

The school board will discuss all options at its monthly meeting Dec. 14. It will vote to approve an ordered list of priorities in January, to be presented to the County Commission.

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