published Thursday, June 7th, 2012

New East Brainerd school now on hold

East Brainerd Elementary School
East Brainerd Elementary School
Margaret Fenton

The consequence of a Wednesday vote by the Hamilton County Commission to halt architect selection for a new East Brainerd Elementary School will be overcrowding at the current school in two years, the school board chairman says.

The commission voted 7-2 to stop the architect selection process, which began in May.

"If they want to delay the school and construction, so be it," Board of Education Chairman Mike Evatt said. "We've' got to get on the same page with the commission. This is not healthy. It's not healthy for our community when you have a commission, when you have a board, and we're both elected to do a job and we can't do our job without getting criticized."

Commissioners plan to hold up construction until they get more information about the school system's capital plans, including how to dispose of the current East Brainerd Elementary site.

Commissioners are angry about the school system's willingness to trade away the current nine-acre East Brainerd Elementary site in a three-way land deal with Chattanooga and the Chattanooga Housing Authority. The school site appraised in January for $2.3 million, and many commissioners think it's worth more than that.

The school system plans to build a new East Brainerd Elementary on the site of the former David Brainerd School on Igou Gap Road.

"Our intention was to sell that property upon the completion of the new [East Brainerd] school," said Commissioner Tim Boyd, who proposed the amendment halting the architect selection. "These nine acres are in an extremely attractive location, and this land swap caught us completely off guard."

In the deal, the schools would receive $429,000 to demolish the East Brainerd school building and 20 acres at the former Poss Homes public housing site. The complex is next to the Howard School of Academics and Technology, and the school system plans to use it to build a new track and football stadium for Howard. A 2011 appraisal estimated the Poss Homes land is worth $1.87 million.

The proposed swap also would give 6.25 acres of the East Brainerd Elementary site to the city to sell as development and 2.8 acres to CHA for low-income senior or disabled housing. The city also would give Dogwood Manor Apartments in Westside to CHA.

On Tuesday, the City Council delayed a vote on approving the land swap. Councilman Jack Benson, whose district includes East Brainerd Elementary, said at Tuesday's meeting that there had been a "firestorm of resistance" from residents who don't want CHA housing in their neighborhood.

Evatt said in a phone call after Wednesday's meeting that he's not planning to take any action against the commission's decision to halt the East Brainerd Elementary process.

"If that's the way they want to be about it, that's fine. We'll just have 900 kids show up at the old school year after next," he said. "The longer they delay, the worse the issues we're going to have in the future."

Boyd said he thought school officials, who signaled to the city of Chattanooga their intent to transfer the East Brainerd property in a March 28 letter, misled commissioners on May 2 when they came to the commission, asking to begin the architect selection process.

"That's just the kind of crap that builds fences between the commission and the board of education," Boyd said Monday.

Commissioner Greg Beck took issue with Boyd's statement.

"District 5 has suffered tremendously. When we try to do something on behalf of African-American schools in a district, our efforts are called 'crap,'" said Beck, who represents District 5, where Howard is located. "We don't appreciate it, and we don't ask for apologies for it, either."

Beck and Commissioner Warren Mackey voted against stopping the architect selection for East Brainerd.

Boyd said he wasn't referring to the project at Howard but to the land swap and the lack of communication from the schools.

about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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