Wednesday, November 2, 2011
New elementary schools in East Hamilton County are top priority for the first phase of a facilities plan recently passed by the Hamilton County School Board.
A replacement school for Ooltewah Elementary and East Brainerd Elementary are listed as the top two projects and an addition and renovation project at Snow Hill Elementary as a third priority.
“I’ll repeat what I’ve said for the last year. In my opinion, we’re a bit behind in the east part of the county,” said Department of Education Superintendent Rick Smith. “We have yet to experience the growth that we are going to experience. We are just now seeing what business is going to do to this part of our county.”
According to School Board Chairman Mike Evatt, census data shows that schools in the eastern portion of the county have grown as much as 75 percent in the last 10 years. Building condition is not the impetus for building new schools; growth in the area necessitates new buildings, he said.
“In this, we were making an effort to prioritize growth areas and areas of overcrowding where we have serious problems today,” said Assistant Superintendent of Auxiliary Services Gary Waters. “We have a limited pool of money available and growth needs in the Ooltewah and East Brainerd areas are of paramount importance to us today.”
Pending approval from the Hamilton County Commission, a new school could be completed in a period of 20 to 30 months under ideal conditions, said Waters. The new East Ridge Elementary school that serves more than 900 students will likely be the model for the new East Hamilton County schools, said Smith.
“We’re trying to create a scenario where we think we are barely going to be able to stay ahead of the coming growth,” said Smith. “Westview is overcrowded and so is East Hamilton. We’re looking at this strictly as a building proposal and will have to come back and look at the zoning depending on what we do.”
The county has recently made $50 million available for building projects, but the cost of elementary school projects in East Hamilton County alone is an estimated $49.8 million. Although the facilities plan was passed, some board members expressed concern about the inequity of spending across districts.
“I’m greatly concerned because I understand that the growth is not even with people moving in different areas, yet there’s inequity when you look across the districts of this county,” said District 5 board member Jeffery Wilson. “In the last 10 years, out of hundreds of millions of dollars, District 5 has only received $4 million. Something is missing.”