published Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Bradley County Commission postpones Lake Forest renovation timetable vote

  • photo
    Charlotte Peak-Jones facing the issues at the Bradley County 4th District County Commission Debate. Contributed by Nathan Ball
    Contributed by Nathan Ball

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The Bradley County Commission has postponed scheduled votes on a funding timetable for a $14 million overhaul of Lake Forest Middle School.

On Monday, items related to the proposed middle school renovation were withdrawn by their sponsoring commissioners, Adam Lowe and Charlotte Peak-Jones. Both cited requests for further discussion and the desire to have a full commission present for the votes. Absent commissioners included Chairman Louie Alford, Jeff Morelock, Brian Smith and Bill Winters.

The Bradley County Board of Education has said a makeover of the middle school is a top priority. The renovation plan calls for the replacement of more than half of the school's 17 classroom pods with a central academic building and incorporating a geothermal energy field into the 75-acre campus.

The renovations are intended to head off at least $6 million in expected repairs for the school and to provide significant energy savings between the reduced number of buildings and the geothermal technology.

A funding plan recommended by an ad hoc committee tasked with providing a financial solution for the requested renovations calls for issuing a $20 million bond in late 2015, with construction beginning in 2016 and putting the new academic building into service in 2017. The proposal is meant to allow the county to take advantage of surplus revenues projected for 2016, "as funds become available," officials said.

A $20 million bond will be needed because the county is required to raise $1 for Cleveland City Schools for every $2 it raises for the county school system under an agreement between Bradley County and Cleveland based on their relative student populations.

Peak-Jones has asked that the commission vote to formally ask the school board to research the expected energy efficiency savings for Lake Forest and offer a financial commitment to the project.

Commissioner Terry Caywood voiced opposition to Peak-Jones' request and to comments previously made by other commissioners on the need for the county school system to "contribute their part" to the Lake Forest renovation.

Caywood cited a $570,000 expense to Bradley County Schools in the coming fiscal year, the result of a $1.4 million settlement with Cleveland due to a dispute over sales tax revenues. The Board of Education agreed to pay the settlement over a 30-month period.

"I think you've already made a contribution," Caywood said to school officials. "I was amazed you could absorb $50,000 a month ... over two-and-half years. That takes real financial management to do that."

The Bradley County Commission meets next Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Bradley County Courthouse.

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