|BOE panel talks new school
Loudon County Board of Education hopes to soon have more information about a potential new school on the north end of the county.
A three-person BOE property committee, consisting of Gary Ubben, Ric Best and Craig Simon, met Monday and agreed to formulate questions that must be answered regarding a new school.
“They want to be open-minded and want to gather as much information as possible in order to make a good decision and let the data support that decision-making process,” Jason Vance, director of schools, said. “I really like that idea. In addition to that, it’ll give me some time between now and the 19th to call some surrounding school districts to see how they’ve handled this situation as well.
“Hopefully, between now and the 19th we’ll be able to come up with a list of questions that will be appropriate for us to consider and get the board some important information in regard to what could be,” he added.
Board members will refine the committee’s list and then decide if school officials can answer the questions themselves, and if not, consider a consulting firm, Ubben said. The committee discussed the possibility of a facility for elementary and middle school students.
“We can decide we can answer all these questions ourselves by doing our own research would be one way of doing it, but then the board members have got a bias this way or a bias that they are going to put it in there,” Ubben said. “The other option is to take those questions, put them in an (request for qualifications) or an (request for proposals) and put them out to some of the firms that do this kind of work for schools and say, ‘What would you charge us to take this list of questions in Loudon County and see if you can answer all these questions for us and give us advice as to what you think we should do?’
“Then you’ve got a neutral party looking at it. They’re not going to come in with an underlined bias and we’ve got some expert opinion,” he added.
Cost of moving forward with a consulting firm could range in the thousands, Ubben said.
“It has a lot to do with how many different areas of responsibility do we assign them,” Best said. “If we’re going to have them do a population survey, so to speak, and make a recommendation on the configuration of the school, then if we’re going to have them actually get into the land acquisition and what we need for what they perceive our needs to be then that’s a double charge there.”
The school board has looked at three properties along Highway 11, including one between Simpson Road and Highway 11 adjacent to First Baptist Church of Lenoir City, one on Shaw Ferry Road and one off Highway 11 identified as the “Hall property.” Cope Associates offered preliminary information on the properties at the June workshop, which Ubben said was free of charge. He said the school board won’t limit itself to those three properties.
Hopes are to build a new school on the north end of Loudon County to quell worries of overcrowding.
“The key to this is we’re at a point where our schools are not really overcrowded now but there’s very little room for growth, anticipating or foreseeing it, and that’s what we’re trying to address,” Best said. “That’s what we’re called to do is ... we have to look at this and we look at it going forward that those schools can’t continue to grow and expand. They’re not all crowded now, but they’re soon going to be.”
Enrollment numbers at Highland Park and North Middle schools have increased the past three years, with the most recent count at 388 and 811, respectively. Eaton Elementary School slightly decreased to 698 students for the 2016-17 year.
Committee members discussed the possibility of removing fifth grade from North Middle School if a K-5 school is constructed.
“North is kind of an odd configuration,” Ubben said. “It’s not typical that you put fifth grade in a middle school. You usually leave it in an elementary school. Unless you’ve got a K-8 school or a K-12 school, we’ve got a couple of those as well where all the grades are included, but ... there was more room at North than there was at Eaton and Highland Park, and so the board made the decision (years ago) to move it there even though it wasn’t a wise move from the standpoint of education. It may have been a wise move from the standpoint of finance at the point.
“We can fix that when we get to the point of building a new school where we can have adequate capacity for the elementary kids and then move fifth grade back out of North,” he added.