The County School Board on Thursday night heard pleas to keep an elementary school within Red Bank city limits and voted to spend $1.5 million on a gym at a school that has been designated for closure.
Alpine Crest Elementary School’s PTA president and the city of Red Bank made presentations to the school board Thursday night.
PTA president Laura Ellinor had collected 2,600 signatures to keep Alpine Crest open, but Red Bank’s board of commissioners had approved a resolution suggesting a totally different location for a proper Red Bank elementary school and making Alpine Crest a community park.
The Hamilton County facilities recommendation released in August outlines the consolidation of three Hixson elementary schools and Alpine Crest into one school at the site of Dupont Elementary School. Red Bank Elementary School on Mountain Creek Road is not within Red Bank city limits.
Board member Faye Robinson urged the city officials to make proposals after consulting their neighborhoods.
“It’s only then, hopefully, the best decision is to be made,” she said.
The resolution reads, “Red Bank seeks to retain an elementary school within the city limits of Red Bank,” with brief suggestion of the former White Oak Elementary School site on Memorial Drive at the edge of Red Bank near North Chattanooga. A possible location also would be the Dayton Boulevard site of the demolished 1937 Red Bank Middle School with the “brick people” on the façade.
Vice Mayor Stefanie Dalton said Red Bank aims to maintain social bonds and a local school “feeder pattern” to Red Bank Middle School and Red Bank High School.
Ms. Ellinor argued that Alpine Crest is in the heart of Red Bank, referencing a goal listed in the county’s district recommendation. It names the Dupont site “the heart of Hixson.”
“If you take the school out of the community, you will take the community out of the school,” Ms. Ellinor said.
Alpine Crest grandparent and student garden volunteer Kathy Ryan reminded the board that it spent $500,000 at Alpine Crest last year to support a forest kindergarten program, fire doors, security cameras and a playground, among other things. The 17-acre property, “which can’t be replicated,” she said, has a butterfly garden, 12 raised garden beds, bluebird houses with 34 fledglings and a growing arboretum. She characterized Alpine Crest as a “community school with a high rating.”
Ms. Ellinor said the school’s large property means it could be expanded if necessary to keep the school open. School board members then challenged Vice Mayor Dalton to contribute city funds to such an expansion, but she said she couldn’t commit without a commission discussion.
Newly elected Board Chairman Joe Smith, who supports the four-school consolidation at Dupont, has argued that no community is willing to give up its own community school to relieve the overextended district.
“Wouldn’t it be great if we could just have little Alpine Crest schools throughout the district?” he said.
The school board voted to give $1.5 million to Rivermont Elementary School to build a gym and multi-purpose building, though Rivermont is recommended for consolidation into Dupont. The project is funded with the American Rescue Plan Act coronavirus stimulus and was first approved by the County Commission before the facilities recommendation was released.
“I’m not willing to abandon a school … when we don’t have a plan in place,” said board member Ben Connor. “Especially as long as students are in the buildings.”
Board member Marco Perez said closing Rivermont would take four years from the date of a vote, and then the school may be reincarnated as a pre-K facility that would use the gym.
“I don’t think it’s a loss,” he said.
Schools Chief Operating Officer Dr. Robert Sharpe said there are cost-saving measures in the gym design that will keep it at the approved $1.5 million, even though the latest project estimate is $1.7 million.
“I’m confident they can come in under budget,” Dr. Sharpe said.
Board members Rhonda Thurman and Faye Robinson voted against the project, saying the County Commission should have the opportunity to re-evaluate how the money is spent since Rivermont may close.
“You could have something more permanent,” said Ms. Thurman.