published Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Cleveland officials seek school construction funding

Cleveland High School's Raider Dome, which houses the school's gymnasium, has been closed to students after city school officials reviewed a recent structural analysis of the facility.
Cleveland High School's Raider Dome, which houses the school's gymnasium, has been closed to students after city school officials reviewed a recent structural analysis of the facility.
Photo by Paul Leach.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Cleveland leaders and city schools officials expect to discuss funding strategies for building a new elementary school and a new gymnasium for Cleveland High School in February.

At a recent meeting, the City Council tabled a request by Cleveland City Schools to provide an advance on capital funding that would go toward architectural fees for the two projects.

Before that happens, the city needs to explore the possibility of restructuring its debt, Councilman George Poe said.

He plans to meet with representatives of the Tennessee Municipal League about that as soon as possible, Poe said.

Councilman Bill Estes asked education officials to consider using Cleveland City Schools' general fund to pay architectural fees for the gym.

"A fund balance is for emergencies like this," Estes said about the new gym. The school's 50-year-old Raider Dome was closed in December following an unfavorable structural analysis.

Estes said such a move would give the City Council some "breathing room."

But Cleveland City Schools Director Martin Ringstaff said the schools' general fund balance has very little room to maneuver and no way to replace money used for architectural fees.

"We have no way of repaying our fund balance," Ringstaff said.

"We're very tight on our budgets," he said. "We don't waste taxpayer money."

Several City Council members said they experienced "sticker shock" at an estimated construction cost of $9.58 million to $12.77 million for a facility seating 1,800 to 3,000 people.

Those costs, which were presented to Cleveland's city school board only last week, will be studied in light of what the high school and community need and want for the facility, Ringstaff said.

Several council members expressed interest in building a gym that could seat more than 2,000 people and serve as a multipurpose facility for tournaments, graduations and other events.

The current high school gymnasium, when it was open, had significant limitations on its use with its seating capacity of 1,500, school board members said.

Architectural work on the new $16.1 million elementary school, to be located on Georgetown Road, began last spring.

That school is needed to relieve overcrowding and accommodate expected growth, schools officials said.

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

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