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County officials tackle overcrowded schools

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CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) - As companies like Volkswagen and Alstom attract more families to Hamilton County, growing pains are felt in the classrooms.

School officials say they have a plan to combat overcrowding.

"We are meeting one need with the growth of the county," says Mike Evatt, Facilities Committee Chairman. "But we've got to meet the need of the students."

As East Hamilton County grows, the space in some schools continues to shrink.

"They give up their art rooms, they start putting classrooms on stages, we put them in portables," says Evatt.

The average age of a Hamilton County school is 44 years, but some have reached 90 and are in bad shape.

Overcrowding has made even the newest of buildings a tight fit.

To combat that problem, a current proposal aims at building six new schools.

Eleven elementary and middle schools would close and consolidate; much of that would require zoning changes.

The plan also includes four additions.

Evatt says the goal is to adopt the plan in phases.

"We can say this is our plan, these are our needs," he says, "and then we can seek funding from the commission."

The first phase would cost an estimated $50 million.

"A tax increase is just off the table," says Commission Chairman Larry Henry. "I just don't see that happening."

Henry has another avenue in mind.

"We will start retiring bonds in 2013 and that will pay a large portion of our debt service," says Henry. "That's how I see the funding coming."

The entire plan will cost between $180 and $190 million.

It will go before the school board April 14th.

If the commission agrees to fund the first phase, which includes replacing Ooltewah and East Brainerd Elementary Schools, it would still be two years before those new schools open.

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