Council seeks help on CHS gym
by JOYANNA LOVE Banner Senior Staff Writer
Apr 15, 2014 | 833 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A Cleveland Board of Education contribution toward the reconstruction of the Cleveland High School gymnasium was a topic of debate for the Cleveland City Council Monday.

District 5 Councilman Dale Hughes asked the Council to request the Cleveland Board of Education to “make an up or down vote’” on whether to contribute $1 million to the project.

Hughes wanted to make the request, so the school board could vote on it that night.

District 2 Councilman Bill Estes said such a large request deserved to be made “face-to-face” and not simply over the phone.

“It seems a little too late for them to do this,” Estes said, commenting on how soon members were meeting.

Hughes said he had thought members of the school board who had been at the work session would also be at the voting session. However, they were not.

Estes said the Council should have gotten more information about the school system’s fund balance before committing $12 million to the project.

“We had no discussion of their fund balance,” Estes said.

Although Estes was not present when the vote was made to use the city’s fund balance to ensure the project moved forward, he said he listened to the audio.

A vote was not made on whether to request the school board to vote. However, city manager Janice Casteel did pass on the request from Hughes to city schools Director Dr. Martin Ringstaff.

Estes said the issue should be discussed at the city’s budget hearing on April 28.

The Cleveland Board of Education did not vote on the issue at its monthly session Monday night.

Estes said committing “nearly 100 percent of our fund balance” put the city in a tight spot where it would be unable to fund other needed projects.

“The city’s future is at great risk,” Estes said.

Hughes said it was “not fair” to say the decision would cause major difficulties for the city.

“We can borrow money from any bank in town, as much money as we need anytime,” Hughes said.

While Estes said this was true, he had concerns about how the debt would be paid back, and how the fund balance would be rebuilt.

Councilman At-Large Richard Banks said the Council agreed the facility was needed, but short of a tax increase the fund balance was the only way to get the project started.

Banks and Hughes said there would not be enough votes from the Council for a tax increase.

“We did the right thing for the city and for those kids and the teachers … for you to come in today and be the Monday-morning quarterback is wrong,” Hughes said.

Estes said he had not planned to discuss the subject until Hughes brought it up.

Recent legislation which allows the county to have one county school project financed without giving city schools any of the revenue borrowed was also a concern for Estes.

District 4 Councilman David May suggested the school board look into applying for a hazard-mitigation grant, such as Bradley County Schools did for the Walker Valley High School addition.

Casteel also passed the suggestion on to Ringstaff.

The CHS Raider Dome has developed cracks in the walls and has other structural problems, making it unsafe for use. Estimates to build a gymnasium have come in at $12 million.

Also during the meeting, the council approved funding to Smith Sechman Reid Inc. and a partial payment to Williams Construction.

The amount Williams Construction says it is owed by the city is about $60,000 more than what SSR is saying the city owes the construction company.

Steve Williams of Williams Construction said there had been a lack of communication between SSR, his company and the city for the past seven months.

He asked for a meeting with both to show the specific details of how the company is reaching its number.

A meeting has been scheduled for Thursday.

The Council did approve $16,434 to be paid to Williams Construction and $67,800 to SSR.

“There was a lot of opposition going into this job environmentally, and they chose the environmental route to try and stop this,” Williams said.

During the project, concerned citizens circulated photos of a muddy creek and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation personnel paid a visit to the site.

“[With] a lot of erosion control measures, we did not have an option and they are not in the contract. You will see some of those came back to you as change orders,” Williams said.

The entire project has come in over budget, due to a change in grade and environmental issues.

Development and Engineering director Jonathan Jobe said in order for the Tennessee Department of Transportation to pay its portion, documentation has be in place before payment.

There have been many change orders throughout the project.