published Monday, August 19th, 2013

Lake Forest Middle School funding vote today

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — A plan to pay for a $14 million renovation of Lake Forest Middle School is on the voting agenda for the Bradley County Commission today.

The plan calls for the county to fund the project "as funds become available." It has been projected that county revenue will increase enough to issue a bond for the project by late 2015.

The proposal comes from an ad hoc committee asked to find a way to fund the overhaul, which has been a top priority of the Bradley County Board of Education for years. It also caps the county's contribution to the project at $14 million.

The project includes a central academic building with 57 classrooms to replace nearly a dozen 37-year-old classroom pods. The makeover -- priced at $12 million in 2011 -- is intended to head off repairs estimated to cost at least $6 million and to save energy.

Approving the proposal shows the county's commitment to Lake Forest, commission Chairman Louie Alford said.

"We cannot borrow money right now, period," he said.

The move equates to punting the matter to the next County Commission and assuming the revenue would be there, Commissioner Connie Wilson said.

Commissioner Jeff Morelock also has criticized the plan, saying projected revenue growth will be needed to fund growing needs of the county's departments.

A proposed 7.72 cent property tax increase, sponsored by Morelock, received only three votes at a commission meeting earlier this month.

The plan's timetable is at odds with a county school board offer to contribute $1 million to the project if the commission would commit to a funding plan by July 1, 2014, and begin construction by July 1, 2015. The committee recommendation has been projected to begin construction in 2016.

A $1 million contribution from the school system would reduce the county's financial commitment by $1.5 million, said Charlie Rose, chairman of the county school board.

This is because an agreement between Bradley County and Cleveland requires that the county raise $1 for city schools for every $2 it raises for the county school system. The agreement is based on student enrollment numbers of the two school districts.

The County Commission meets at noon today at the county courthouse.

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

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