Outdated classrooms and an overcrowded campus have strained operations at Lincoln Heights Elementary School and the Hamblen County Commission Education Committee was presented a plan for a new school building Monday night.
Hamblen County Superintendent Dr. Jeff Perry and Lincoln Heights Elementary School Assistant Principal Krista Christian were present to make the case for correcting a subpar situation at the school on Lincoln Avenue.
“The motto at our school is ‘Whatever It Takes’ and our students and teachers embody that every day,” Christian said. “Our commitment that I’m asking from you is for safe and equitable schools. Our classrooms are open and they’re quite noisy. They’re overcrowded- we’ve simply outgrown our space. Although we’ve made great strides and we’ve got the best teachers who are giving students everything they’ve got, we need a little support in our learning environment.”
Perry said that in addition to the open classrooms being the worst learning environments, they presented security and safety challenges that are difficult.
He said it was important to speak up for the families whose students attended Lincoln.
“I think the thing that is probably the most concerning for me- We’ve got about 99% of these students on free or reduced lunch,” he said. “These kids don’t come from affluent families. These kids don’t come from the affluent parents that are going to come here and shout to you that they need a new school. These parents are going to take whatever we give them. That’s a sad situation- that the kids that need the most opportunity just don’t have the political clout, the political awareness, to be able to speak for themselves. They’ve got great teachers that just need facilities in which to work.”
The school system can renovate the school where it stands and “infill” the classrooms to modernize the environment and add more classrooms. Perry said the advantage to this approach is a short term cost savings of around $15 million over a new school.
He said the construction disruption of a renovation would be difficult to deal with and the short term savings would come at the cost of long term planning.
Perry said the benefits of constructing a new school, outside of a 50 year minimum lifespan, included the elimination of mobile classrooms in the building phase, elimination of traffic/parking issues at the school which are already strained, the elimination of renovation disruptions, and the ability to use the extra space created at the Lincoln Heights Campus for para-school operations and expansion of the middle school.
The Hamblen County Budget Committee approved a proposal last week that would move $0.09 in property tax revenue to the county debt service fund. This budget maneuver is designed to enable the funding of a new school without raising taxes or fees in the county.
The school system will request $22 million from the county for the new school and will be using $5 million from ESSER funds to cover the remainder of the cost needed for a 600 student facility.
“You do have a commitment from us which will hopefully be approved on the 24th,” Commission Chairman Howard Shipley said.
Tony Pettit, project manager from BurWil Construction, was present to give an update on the progress of the efforts to get the justice center/jail project re-bid.
He said a change in the way the foundation will be constructed should save $2 million.
Pettit said the lumber market was starting to soften and there was hope that the steel market would follow, but there is concern that inflation and future potential interest rate hikes would be a cost increase concern.
Commissioner Tim Goins asked Pettit why some of these cost saving measure were not taken from the beginning. Pettit said the engineering technique for the foundation was a newer technique and it had not been considered over the more traditional, original design.
He said representatives from the architect group would be on hand on the 24th to answer questions and explain their value engineering efforts.
The commission approved a measure to re-bid renovations to the Hale House across the street from the court house.