published Friday, March 16th, 2012

Cleveland farm cheaper than airport as elementary school site, study says

Yolanda Allen cuts hay in a 1965 Case tractor with an umbrella for shade at Hardwick Farm off North Lee Highway in Cleveland, Tenn.
Yolanda Allen cuts hay in a 1965 Case tractor with an umbrella for shade at Hardwick Farm off North Lee Highway in Cleveland, Tenn.
Margaret Fenton
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    Map of Hardwick Field and Hardwick Farm in Cleveland, Tennessee
    Photo by Laura McNutt /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Preparing a site at Hardwick Farms for a new elementary school would be about half a million dollars cheaper than preparing the existing airport at Hardwick Field for that use, a city staff study found.

The Cleveland school board needs to begin construction of a new elementary school soon to accommodate student population growth, board members say. But some City Council members have suggested that, rather than buying new land, the board buy the airport property from the Municipal Airport Authority.

The airport authority must sell that site as part of the local funding match for federal grants needed to build the new airport off Tasso Road.

The school board recently asked city planners and engineers to compare the two sites. They received the results Wednesday after a joint meeting with other elected bodies.

"Before I vote on it, I want to weigh the whole thing," City Councilman David May said. "I want the numbers."

The study assumes using 15 acres at the farm site, now an open field, and 18 acres at the airport site in order to make a school fit. Otherwise, assumptions for both sites call for a 100,000-square-foot building with 115 parking spaces, a playground and multipurpose field and necessary drainage.

"These are only rough numbers," said Jonathan Jobe, city community development administrator. "The airport is doable. But there are unknowns. This is redevelopment, and redevelopment has unknowns."

At the airport, site preparation, including fuel tank removals, would cost more than $858,000, the study determined. Off-site preparations, including surrounding street improvements, adds another $650,000 or more. Including the estimated $500,000 purchase price the school board would pay for the land puts the airport site at $2 million.

"We would be taking the heart of that property for the school," City Manager Janice Casteel said.

That would lessen the value of the remaining property on both sides of the school when the city sells those acres, officials said.

Development costs on the nearby farm site are estimated at just shy of $731,000. The purchase price from the owners, the Stuart family, is estimated at $750,000, although that amount is being negotiated. The study placed the total cost of preparing the farm site at $1.5 million.

School board members, who recently visited the airport site for a closer look, have said they prefer the farm site.

The Stuart family has plans to build a residential community on the family farm to accommodate up to 2,000 residences. The development, which would be centered on the future school, would include a road that could be used by the school to connect to U.S. 11 for bus routes.

about Randall Higgins...

Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...

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