published Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

Cleveland, Tenn., grapples with funding multimillion-dollar elementary school

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Cleveland officials have started to grapple with how to pay for a multimillion-dollar elementary school to be built on Georgetown Road.

In a recent meeting, a plan for the school was presented to the Cleveland City Council by Brian Templeton of the Upland Design Group.

"We have met individually with teachers and administrators in the current system to develop kind of a wish list," he said.

Site development features driven by those discussions include outdoor learning spaces and community amenities that take advantage of the site's rural setting, parking for 50 staff and 100 visitors, canopied building access and service vehicle access, said Templeton.

Proposed plans also call for 140-square-foot safe room spaces for the school's 32 classrooms, to be used for everyday storage and as shelter in case of emergencies.

The proposed school rang in at about 116,228 square feet, according to a summary draft of architectural plans. But school officials said they would come back to the council by Aug. 26 with plans for a cheaper, smaller footprint. Superintendent Martin Ringstaff said a $15 million school for 550 students, instead of the planned 700, could be built to allow for an easy addition later on.

The new school, yet to be named, should reduce overcrowding at Mayfield and E.L. Ross elementary schools, Ringstaff said, as well as accommodate growth from the northern part of the city.

Several officials expressed concern about waiting until Cleveland City Schools receives a portion of capital funding dollars from Bradley County. According to an agreement between Cleveland and Bradley County, the county must raise $1 for the city school system for every $2 it raises for Bradley County Schools.

This arrangement, which is based on student enrollment numbers of the two school systems, could provide $7 million for Cleveland City Schools if the county funds a $14 million makeover for Lake Forest Middle School. Two efforts to fund the Lake Forest makeover -- a proposed $32 wheel tax and a proposed 7.72 cent property tax hike -- have failed.

A number of Bradley County leaders have said that the Lake Forest project could be funded by projected revenue growth expected to occur in 2015 and 2016.

"We cannot wait two years to have this discussion to build [the new elementary school]," said Ringstaff, stating that the overcrowding problem in city elementary schools has reached a crisis point.

Without help from the county, a tax increase of 13.3 cents would be needed to fund the entire project, City Manager Janice Casteel said.

Banks recommended exploring restructuring the city's debt so as to launch the school's construction as soon as possible while minimizing taxpayer impact and incorporating county funding at a later date.

Staff writer Kevin Hardy contributed to this story.

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

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