What's the hold-up on the new Red Bank Middle School?
By David Carroll
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- The proposed site for a new Red Bank Middle School is the girls softball area behind the current Red Bank High School. But three years after funding was approved, no dirt has been turned, and students are still attending a 73-year-old school that is woefully outdated.
Davette Oakes has two sons, in 7th and 8th grades. When the Hamilton County Commission approved a 26-cent property tax hike in July 2007, part of the funds were clearly earmarked for new schools in East Ridge and Red Bank. The new East Ridge Elementary opened this week. The beautiful, spacious facility makes Oakes and other parents wonder how Red Bank has been left out of the celebration. "Its very frustrating not to have a new middle school," she says. "It was promised to us."
It's frustrating for students and teachers too. Physical education classes are held in an ancient gymnasium, with paint peeling from the walls and ceiling, and no air conditioning.
Jim Wulf has taught and coached at Red Bank Middle since 1991. Already sweating early Friday morning, he said, "It's not unusual for it to be 95 degrees in here. The boys complain, but I tell 'em, boys I've been in here all day."
There's also the issue of technology. "It's hard to keep computers from crashing when the electrical system can't handle the load," according to Mrs. Oakes. "Our children are at a real disadvantage compared to children in the other middle schools."
Help is on the way, but no one can say when. Assistant Superintendent Gary Waters, who oversees construction and maintenance for Hamilton County schools, has the plans in place, but can't give the go-ahead to builders until the federal government approves the site. Under a deal agreed to more than 30 years ago by the city of Red Bank, the proposed site is considered a park.
Local officials have suggested a new park site to replace it, but "approval from the feds takes time," according to Waters. He adds, "It's not just a simple matter of Red Bank and Hamilton County, they're both on board. We had to go to the state, and they have approved, but now it's up to the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior. They're studying it, and hopefully we're very near the end of the paperwork trail on that."
Until the government gives the thumbs up, the plans for the school, which are complete, remain on Waters' desk. Red Bank Middle teachers and students must do the best they can with what they have.
New principal Stacy Stewart says, "Obviously there's not a lot we can do. We're off to a good start this year, and morale is high among teachers and students. But when we get the okay for a new school, we'll be ready to go."