published Monday, September 5th, 2011

Bradley County eyes school building needs

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Bradley County officials are trying to figure out how, and if, they can pay for $38.3 million in school construction.

The county school system recently submitted a list of priorities to the County Commission: an addition at Walker Valley High School, an academic building at Lake Forest Middle School, a new south Bradley elementary school and land for an elementary school in the northern part of the county.

The request totals $26.5 million. But when the county raises money for schools capital projects, the city system gets a share based on student population. The city’s share brings the total to $38.3 million.

“If we are going to fund this request, or some portion thereof, it is going to require a tax increase,” Commissioner Jeff Morelock said. “If we had a bond issue for this $38 million, it would take somewhere around $2.5 million a year to fund it over 25 years at 4 percent [interest], somewhere in that range.”

That annual payment affects the county’s reserve fund, he said.

Morelock said the county could raise more money by taxing vehicle registrations. A $56 wheel tax would generate about $5 million, he said.

Or, he said, commissioners could wait until property tax payments start coming in from Wacker Chemical, which is building a $1.5 billion plant in Bradley. The payments are slated for the school system and are set to begin in fiscal 2014.

Based on the current division, Morelock said, city and county schools would get more than $2 million the first year, leaving $2.3 million for other county needs.

But Bradley Schools Director Johnny McDaniel said the need is immediate. With the April tornadoes and the destruction of Blue Springs Elementary Schools the other schools are full again — even Park View Elementary School, which opened only last year, he said.

Portable classrooms already are coming to some schools for pre-kindergarten programs, he said.

Enrollment, at just under 10,200, is flat this year, McDaniel said.

“But we have a wave coming into secondary schools now,” he said, including middle and high schools. “If we wait till 2015 [to build], we will be way behind.”

County Finance Committee Chairman Connie Wilson said the panel will invite a local accountant familiar with the issue to the committee’s Wednesday meeting.

about Randall Higgins...

Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...

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