School plans questioned

Some board members worry Loudon building program is unrealistic

Hugh G. Willett

With the Loudon County Commission moving to fund a $40 million school building program, some school board members are concerned that the current plans are unrealistic.

"We've got to be reasonable or we'll get nothing," said board member Van Shaver.

The biggest project is a new kindergarten-through-12th-grade Greenback School estimated at $26.4 million for a 188,000-square-foot building and a student population of 1,000. That's more than twice the size of the current building that has an enrollment of 680 students.

"Over the last seven years, Greenback's enrollment has stayed virtually unchanged, if not down slightly," Shaver said. "Given the flat enrollment, should we build for a projected increase of 80 percent?"

The building plans were based on a "best case" scenario with the input of teachers and administrators at the schools, according to schools Director Wayne Honeycutt.

The Greenback plan is not just about accommodating more students but also about giving students a better overall learning environment, Honeycutt said. The new plans include a much larger library, vocational areas, computer labs and bigger hallways, he said.

School board member Lisa Russell of Greenback has campaigned long and hard for a new school in her community. She believes that the board has to take a hard look at all the plans, including those for Greenback and the new Fort Loudoun Middle School.

"We need to re-evaluate the size of both schools," Russell said. "We have to be realistic."

A new middle school is projected to cost about $12.4 million for a 92,000-square-foot building that can accommodate 600 students. The current building is 41,000 square feet for 396 students.

Shaver points out that middle school enrollment has only increased by 37 students over the past seven years. At that rate, it would take 38.4 years to reach the 600 student level, he said.

Like Greenback, the problem at the middle school is not just the number of students per square foot, but also the learning environment, Honeycutt said. Currently some children are taking computer classes in converted locker rooms, he said.

The new middle school should be completed first to pave the way for a $4.2 million plan to combine the existing middle school with Fort Loudoun Elementary School, he said.

The least expensive part of the building program is a $1.3 million plan to renovate the cafeteria at Philadelphia Elementary School. The Philadelphia cafeteria is so small that students have to start eating lunch at 10:30 in the morning so everyone can eat, Honeycutt said.