published Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Bradley County seeks school funding options

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    Bradley County Commissioner Ed Elkins
    Photo by Gillian Bolsover

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Bradley County commissioners will review alternative funding options for financing a proposed $14 million overhaul for Lake Forest Middle School, which has been a top priority for Bradley County Schools for a number of years.

Members of the Bradley County Finance Committee recently agreed to ask Cope Associates Architecture to give a presentation on its alternative funding program on July 17.

Renovation plans for the school entail replacing multiple classroom pod structures with a 57-classroom academic building, which Bradley County education officials said would head off an estimated $6 million in major repairs and maintenance and provide energy savings. The proposal also may incorporate a geothermal field, depending on geotechnical surveys.

If appropriate, the Finance Committee may ask the architectural firm to make a presentation before the whole Bradley County Commission, said Commissioner Ed Elkins, chairman of the committee.

Bradley County Commission Chairman Louie Alford said he believed the firm's alternative funding program involved a lease/purchase agreement, but he was not familiar with details.

Commissioner Jeff Morelock has asked that a vote on a proposed property tax increase, which he recommended as a way to fund the middle school's makeover, be postponed from Monday until commissioners have had an opportunity to evaluate alternative funding program.

Current wording for the tax increase states that the amount be whatever is needed to meet the bond issue for renovations. Morelock has estimated that to be about 7 cents per $100 of assessed value in light of a recent limited-time offer to commit $1 million to the project by Bradley County Schools.

"I'd just like to see us fix it where they can get started on construction on Lake Forest, not in the 2013-14 fiscal year, but in the 2014-15 fiscal year," he said. "I'd like to see them starting construction on that building that year instead of putting this way off into the future."

Morelock's proposed timetable takes advantage of the $1 million commitment from the Bradley County Board of Education, which has asked that the county commit to having a funding plan by July 1, 2014, and launching construction no later than July 1, 2015. Education officials said the offer will be rescinded if those conditions are not met.

Setting a timetable was an improvement over repeatedly putting off a decision, Bradley County school board member Nicholas Lillios said of the $1 million offer. Several county leaders have said increases in projected revenue in a couple of years might be tapped to fund the Lake Forest renovations.

Morelock said he believed improved revenue streams will be needed for other county departments to coincide with Bradley County growth.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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