The city school board unanimously approved the site at its Sept. 6 board meeting, based on recommendations from the site selection committee composed of Dr. Murl Dirksen, chairman, and members Tom Cloud and Steve Morgan.
Director of Schools Dr. Martin Ringstaff said the cost of the new school is estimated in the range of $12-13 million. How much the new school would cost the city depends on the county’s needs and bond issue.
“If they move ahead with what they’re looking for, that would be about $13 million for the city,” he said.
The need for a new elementary school is driven by an increase of students averaging more than 100 students per year, from 2003 to 2011. According to September attendance records, the student population grew by 126 students from last year.
“If we continue to grow at 100 students per year, even if we built the elementary school and started construction now, it’s about a two- to three-year process to get that done. We would be 300 students-plus at that time, which is the size of a small elementary school,” he said.
The director of schools said Mayfield has 80 more students than it was designed for. Blythe-Bower is at its designed capacity. Arnold Elementary, including preschool, is 100 students over capacity. Cleveland Middle School was designed for 1,200 students and has a population of 1,172. The middle school can be expanded to handle 1,400 students.
Ringstaff said the music room, computer and speech labs, and guidance classrooms at Mayfield have been converted into regular classrooms. Similar moves have been made at other schools.
“We continue to take away classrooms. At Mayfield, there are no more classrooms. If Mayfield [gains] another 65 to 70 students next year, we do not have a good answer as to where we are going to sit those students.”
Ringstaff said the school system added six teachers in 2010 and seven more this year in order to meet the teacher-to-student ratio mandated by the state. Rezoning is not an option because all of the elementary schools are full. The school system cannot sustain the kind of growth seen in the Mayfield district.
The property for the new school is located on the east side of North Lee Highway, across the highway from Tennessee Christian Preparatory School and a small retail mall featuring a Dollar General store. The location is slightly more than a mile north of Bradley Square Mall and the Stuart Road-North Lee Highway intersection, and about a mile from Bradley County’s North Lee Elementary School.
Dirksen was asked if the site committee considered Hardwick Field or other property owned by the city. He said airport property requires a great deal of site preparation and must be sold at market value. Also, Hardwick Field is not currently available.
Dirksen said the heirs to Hardwick Farm indicated they are willing to negotiate down on a preliminary price of $950,000.
“Nobody has set a price, but it is not going to be free,” he said. “We are going to try to get it at the best price we can.”
Ringstaff said a middle school in the southern part of the city will be needed in the future as predicted growth continues toward 8,000 students systemwide.