Hawkins BOE chair questions Clinch School renovations

Jeff Bobo • Feb 22, 2007 at 9:57 AM

ROGERSVILLE - The Hawkins County Commission won't be seeing the school system's proposal for the $30 million phase three building addition and renovation project in March.

That's because the Board of Education agreed Thursday to schedule a town meeting at Clinch School in early March to allow the community a say in what happens to the school.

Currently on the table is a 12-classroom, $4.8 million addition and renovation to the rural K-12 school, which would increase the total number of classrooms to 20.

As the BOE discussed finalizing plans for the project during a workshop session Thursday, however, Chairman Robert Stidham questioned the wisdom of renovating the school at all.

Stidham said the board may want to consider simply building a new Clinch School from scratch.

One cause for concern is the fact that once the additions are complete at the existing school, there will be no room for additional growth. There would only be room for the placement of two modular classrooms on the property.

Another cause for concern is the lack of a sprinkler system at the existing wood-frame school. Although the 12-room addition will be connected by a corridor and wouldn't be affected by a fire at the old school, it would be another huge expense if the gym, offices, cafeteria and classrooms in the existing school were lost.

Stidham noted that an arson last year at Clinch School could have been devastating if the arsonist hadn't accidentally broken water lines in the boiler room where the fire took place.

Architect Don Solt met with board members Thursday evening to discuss possible cuts and additions to the overall phase three project. Solt said one alternative would be to construct a new 20-classroom school, but that would cost between $6 million and $7 million, not including property acquisition, site preparation and infrastructure.

"We're proposing to spend $5 million to add on to this school, and I have to wonder if it wouldn't be smarter to find a pasture somewhere out there and just build a new school," Stidham said. "We'd probably be looking at another couple million, but if we stick with this (existing location) plan, that's as far as we'll ever be able to go with that school. If there's ever an increase in residential development out there and more classroom space is needed, we'll have to look for a new location anyway."

Board member Tammy Baird, who represents the Clinch area, suggested that the board hold a town meeting at Clinch School and hear what the community members have to say about the proposed project before a decision is made.

Director of Schools Clayton Armstrong agreed with hearing input from the community before the decision is made. But he also impressed upon the board the need to do it quickly.

Armstrong said he would prefer to have a final phase three proposal and final dollar amount available by April to present to the County Commission's Budget Committee when 2007-08 budget talks begin.

One of the purposes of Thursday's workshop was to look for cost-cutting measures, but the board made some additions to the project as well.

No voting could take place during the workshop, but the board informally agreed that the new 24-classroom fifth- and sixth-grade school would be built on vacant land in the northeast corner of the Church Hill Middle School campus. According to Solt, avoiding the purchase of new property and site preparation would shave about $2 million from the project cost.

Another $1 million to $1.5 million was shaved from the project by eliminating a new football stadium at CHMS. The board instead agreed to install new bleachers and a track at the existing stadium and refurbish the ticket booth and press box.

As for additions, the board asked Solt to add four more classrooms to what was a 10-classroom addition to the elementary wing at Bulls Gap School. Bulls Gap Principal Beth Holt noted that the proposed razing of the old vocational building, which contains 10 classrooms, would in essence cause her to break even in classroom space.

Holt was not opposed to eliminating the vocational building, which she described as a "safety hazard," but said she still needs more classroom space.

The current classroom addition proposal calls for new rooms to be built on both sides of the end of the elementary school wing. At an increase of an estimated $600,000, the board informally agreed to add two classrooms to both new sections.

As for the proposed 12-room classroom additions at Cherokee High School and Volunteer High School, Solt said there was no way to drastically whittle down the cost of those projects.

At the suggestion of Cherokee High Principal Daffin Anderson, however, Solt said he could move the addition from a location adjacent to the gym to directly between the main building and the vocational building, and that would actually reduce the cost a bit.

Anderson had asked for the change because the original location of the addition would have obstructed the view of the parking area and limited school officials' ability to monitor who is coming and going from campus.

Armstrong said he would contact Clinch School this morning to set up a time for the public meeting. He said it might be best to schedule a special called BOE meeting for after the public meeting so the board can consider a final vote on the project.

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