published Saturday, June 15th, 2013

Timetable suggested for Lake Forest Middle School overhaul

The cabinets in art teacher Kari Garrett’s classroom at Lake Forest Middle School in Cleveland are falling from their hinges in this file photo.
The cabinets in art teacher Kari Garrett’s classroom at Lake Forest Middle School in Cleveland are falling from their hinges in this file photo.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The Bradley County Board of Education wants to begin a $14 million overhaul of Lake Forest Middle School by July 1, 2015, and has made a limited-time offer of $1 million if the county commits to the capital project within the next 12 months.

The school board recently voted 5-1 to contribute $1 million to the project if the county will commit to a funding plan by July 1, 2014, with construction starting a year later. If the county does not meet the deadline, the offer will be withdrawn. Board member Rodney Dillard cast the opposing vote.

"It gives us a date, and that's something we haven't had in the last four years," said board member Nicholas Lillios, who made the funding timetable recommendation.

Bradley County Schools has listed sweeping renovations for Lake Forest as a top priority for a number of years. Changes include replacing the middle school's classroom pods -- which are spread across a 75-acre campus -- with a central academic building and possibly installing geothermal technology on the grounds. The measures are intended to head off an estimated $6 million in repairs and create significant energy savings.

Board member Christy Critchfield questioned how the funds would be raised and whether the future school board and county commission would stick to the plan.

The school system has some funds it could put toward the project, said Rick Smith, business manager for Bradley County Schools.

Smith said around $831,000 has been set aside from insurance money generated by the storm-devastated Blue Springs Elementary School. Using those funds, however, would require a board vote to reverse a vote to hold those funds for the school's replacement.

Another possibility, Smith said, was tapping into $130,000 in general funds above the school system's reserve requirements.

Critchfield warned the board that they ran the risk of possibly having to fire teachers to make good on the commitment if the county comes through.

The $1 million timetable commitment was made in response to a Bradley County Commission request that the school system review what sources of funding it could commit to the project.

The county has projected increased revenue streams by spring 2016, Bradley County Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones said in an address to the school board. However, those are just projections, and the county has no easy solutions for funding Lake Forest renovations.

"There are other ways to build schools than projected revenue, I'm just saying," Critchfield said. "There are other options that the [Bradley County Commission] has, that they could vote to enact that would not even take into consideration projected revenue."

On Monday, the Bradley County Commission will meet at noon at the county courthouse to vote on a property tax increase intended to fund the Lake Forest makeover.

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

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