Red Bank City Manager Martin Granum said county school officials see problems with two proposed sites for a new elementary school for Red Bank and are focusing on the former Red Bank Middle School property.
He said that Tuesday morning county school officials met with officials from the city in a two and a half hour session. What the school board is looking for in a site to build a new school is 10-15 acres of flat property. They see site difficulties with the land that was formerly occupied by White Oak Elementary School and the current location of Alpine Crest Elementary School . There is a push, said Mr. Granum, to use the former Red Bank Middle School property.
Everything is on the table, said Commissioner Pete Phillips, and the city is willing to compromise to keep a school in Red Bank. But the timing is not in the city’s favor. Red Bank is already in the process of having a new comprehensive plan being developed along with a small site study aimed at the former middle school property, which is the center of Red Bank’s commercial district on Dayton Boulevard. It is 12 acres and its potential uses are viewed as a cornerstone that will guide the city’s future development.
It is a 100-year decision, said the city manager. It has been considered for commercial and retail development with restaurants and coffee shops and open public space, or as a central park, or for a mixture of retail and residential space. Direction that was given for the small site study for that location did not include education as a potential use. But that might change. One problem now is that the city’s plan will not be complete for at least another year, and the Hamilton County School Board is set to make a decision of where to put a new school late this winter or early next spring.
Of the three sites that are under consideration, the White Oak property, the site of Alpine Crest Elementary and the former middle school property, the Red Bank Commissioners' first choice is White Oak. But that does not align with preferences of most school board members, according to Ben Conner who represents Red Bank on the school board. He told the commissioners on Tuesday night that his perception is that there is no support for the kinds of investment it would take for site preparation of the White Oak property. The commissioners have considered footing the bill for road and sidewalk infrastructure improvements in and around that property, but they are unwilling to commit to sharing in the cost for site preparation because the cost is unknown. And it is unlikely that Hamilton County Schools will obtain estimates for the work there since that site ranks as their third choice. Although it is not a likely choice for the new elementary school, the land is already owned by Hamilton County Schools and will probably be kept for future use, said Mr. Conner.
Alpine Crest Elementary is located in a residential neighborhood with a wooded hillside beside it. If a new school were to be built there, the old building would have to be demolished, and all the students would need to be relocated during the 18 months needed for construction of a new building that is up to current codes. Mr. Conner said if the school is moved, Hamilton County Schools likely would not need that property.
He said he does not know how other board members will vote, but his sense is that the first option would be to enter into an interlocal agreement with the city to swap the former middle school property for the land where Alpine Crest currently is. That would give the city the land and building that could be used for a community center and a library - both amenities that the commissioners would like to have for residents of the city. He said it is his feeling that if that does not happen, the county will just move on and build the school at the Dupont property in Hixson that it already owns. The consensus now is not to combine three elementary schools to create one school, as originally proposed, but to combine two schools for a student population of 650 to 800, it was stated. At the Dupont location, there is room for two buildings and they could be constructed without displacing students.
"I am hearing that I have few options," said Mr. Conner, but he said his goal is to keep an elementary school in Red Bank, adding, “I’m just delivering the message - you can shoot the messenger.”
County Commissioner David Sharp, who was at the meeting, when asked to weigh in, said that he sees it as a choice between the former middle school property and the Dupont site and said it all boils down to a single thing - the future of an elementary school on the north end of Red Bank rests in the commission’s hands. He urged the commission to expedite the small area study and add the option of using it for a school, while giving it priority over the comprehensive plan for the whole city. Mr. Conner urged the commissioners to make a decision because he said that inaction amounts to taking action. If Red Bank does not act, the school board probably will, he said.
City Manager Granum said that location is 12 acres of commercial land and to commit it to a school will affect the city for 100 years. He told the commissioner to be aware that if a school is there, it will not generate property or sales taxes, and it will basically be committed to be an elementary school.
The conversation about school facilities will continue at the next commission meeting on Dec. 19, when there will be the potential to vote on a commitment for offering a financial incentive for building the school on a Red Bank location.