published Friday, October 7th, 2011

Hamilton County school system eyes location for new Ooltewah elementary

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    The current Ooltewah Elementary School is located near interstate 75 in Ooltewah, Tenn.


The school board voted 5-0 to send a letter of intent to the state signaling the school district’s plan to apply for a $1.85 million grant to open a school for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The state is offering one grant each in West and East Tennessee. Superintendent Rick Smith said the school system is making no financial commitment to the project by submitting the letter. Applications for the program are due Dec. 30 and grant winners will be announced in January.

Hamilton County education officials will ask the County Commission to spend $875,000 on acquiring land where a new Ooltewah Elementary School eventually could be built.

School board members are interested in 30 vacant acres just west of Interstate 75 off Ooltewah-Georgetown Road. A new school at that location ultimately could house up to 1,000 students and replace the undersized and aging Ooltewah Elementary at 9232 Lee Highway.

More importantly, the new school could help alleviate overcrowding at several schools on the county’s east side. A $23 million school at the site could relieve crowding at Snow Hill and Wallace A. Smith elementary schools, according to a list of staff recommendations for new school facilities.

The board voted 5-0 to take the request to the County Commission’s meeting next week. Board members Chip Baker, Joe Galloway, Linda Mosley and Everett Fairchild were absent.

District 9 County Commissioner Chester Bankston, who attended Thursday’s specially called school board meeting, said the commission likely would support the proposal. Commissioners have been in touch with school leaders about this proposed site, he said, as well as other long-term school needs.

“It’s definitely a very good price,” he said. “I don’t see any problems with it.”

The County Commission doles out the school system’s budget, purchases property and authorizes school construction bonds.

In a meeting late last month with Superintendent Rick Smith and school board members, the commission’s education committee asked that the school system present prioritized lists of capital needs. Bankston said it’s now time to get to work on some much needed construction.

“We’re going to run out of room for kids,” he said. “We need to get moving.”

If the county secures the 30 acres, the school system would sell the current Ooltewah Elementary once a new building is built, said Assistant Superintendent of Auxiliary Services Gary Waters.

“That’s relatively high-value commercial property so that should bring a good price,” he said.

At about 1,000 students the new school would be one of the county’s largest elementary buildings. Waters said new schools in the future will be constructed with larger capacities to help consolidate buildings. Ooltewah Elementary had 457 students enrolled by this year’s 20th day of classes.

Waters said the size and location of this property make the site a good buy for the money, especially given the proximity to sewer and other utilities.

School board Chairman Mike Evatt said school leaders had been looking for available property. And when officials found this site a few months ago, they decided to act quickly, he said.

If the commission approves the deal, Evatt said he expects construction planning to start soon.

“I would hope in the next few months we might be able to do some architecture work,” he said.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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