School building plans presented

By Hugh G. Willett

LOUDON - Loudon County schools director Wayne Honeycutt on Thursday presented to the school board a road map for the county's long-awaited school building program.

The three-phase plan, which might cost more than $100 million over the next five or more years, met with general approval from most board members.

"I'm very pleased with what Mr. Honeycutt brought to the table," said board member Lisa Russell, who represents the Greenback district.

The first phase of the plan, estimated at $45.4 million, includes building a new pre-K-to-12 school at Greenback at a cost of about $30 million.

Other schools will convert to a pre-K-to-8 model wherever possible throughout the district, Honeycutt said. He said the latest research shows that model works best because it eliminates transitions between schools that can disrupt the learning process.

The first stage of the project includes upgrades to Fort Loudoun Elementary and Middle schools, which will be combined into a pre-K-to-8 configuration. About $2 million in upgrades to the Philadelphia Elementary School kitchen and cafeteria are included in phase one.

The second stage of the plan is projected to cost about $52 million. It includes a new pre-K-to-8 school near Highway 72 and Interstate 75 at a cost of about $18 million.

Other conversions to the pre-K-to-8 model would include Highland Park Elementary School. Based on projections, it might be necessary to build another elementary school in the north end of the county, officials say.

The third stage of the plan involves major renovations to Loudon High School, including new classrooms and athletic fields at a cost of about $12 million. Conversion of Steekee School to a pre-K-to-8 model as well as upgrades to Eaton and North Middle schools at a cost of about $7 million would be included in this stage. Upgrades to the Loudon County Technology Center might also be included.

Board member Russell said she is eager to bring the plan for a vote at the next board meeting so that it could be forwarded to the county commission for funding. Honeycutt said he hopes that with funding in place, the first phase can begin in six to eight months.

The plan did not make use of about 80 acres of land owned by the school system on U.S. Highway 321. In separate business at the meeting Thursday night, the board voted to ask for a TBI investigation into its purchase.