FIRST ON 3: Rezoning meetings set for East Hamilton schools - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

East Hamilton rezoning meetings set for Tuesday, Thursday

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CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- In 2007, Hamilton County leaders broke ground on a new middle-high school in the East Brainerd/Apison area, providing long-needed relief for overcrowded Ooltewah schools.

They had no way of knowing that within two years of its 2009 opening, East Hamilton Middle-High School would itself be the most overcrowded school in the county.  With an enrollment of 2,114 students, and at least a hundred more projected to enroll this fall, "East Hamilton is at capacity and then some," according to School Board Chair Mike Evatt.

Two public meetings are scheduled next week to give school district officials a chance to offer "a first draft," according to Deputy Superintendent Dr. Lee McDade.  "We expect Board members, educators and parents to have some ideas, so there will be a chance for them to comment, and for us to tweak the plans if necessary," Dr. McDade said.

Officials say some of the changes could take effect in the next school year, which begins August 2012.  "We have to do something to give East Hamilton some immediate relief," Dr. McDade said.  Still to be determined is how many current East Hamilton students will be "grandfathered in," allowing them to stay in the school in which they are currently enrolled.

But, according to Evatt, there is no doubt that some children who are currently zoned for East Hamilton will be shifted to other schools. "Some will be moved to Ooltewah High, Ooltewah Middle and Hunter Middle," he said.  "All of those buildings are currently under capacity, and it makes sense to put the kids and the teachers where we have classroom space.

Some of the changes will involve elementary school zones too, according to Evatt.  "We're building new schools for East Brainerd and Ooltewah Elementary schools, so down the road those folks will be affected too," he said.

The first meeting is set for Tuesday February 28 at East Hamilton School, with another to follow on Thursday March 1 at Ooltewah High School.  Both meetings begin at 6:00 p.m.


From the time East Hamilton opened its doors in August 2009, it became clear that it would soon be packed.  Many students who had formerly attended schools in the Ooltewah zone were rezoned out of necessity.  In 2008, Ooltewah High, with a capacity of 1365 students, had swelled to 1923 students.  At the same time, Ooltewah Middle, built to hold 980 students, was bursting at the seams with 1145 students.   Nearby Hunter Middle School wasn't far behind, with 836 students.

Two years later, those once-overcrowded schools have space to fill.  Ooltewah High is down to 1370 students, about 550 fewer than its peak.  Principal Mark Bean said, "We're comfortable now, but we can accomodate more."  No one is expecting a repeat of Ooltewah's once-jammed hallways and classrooms, but a rezoning plan that would shift approximately 200 students back into the Ooltewah High zone is possible.

The rezoning meetings will also cover the ripple effect of rezoning for elementary schools in the zone, including Wolftever Creek, East Brainerd, Ooltewah and Snow Hill schools. 

Also looming in the near future is the planned new construction of a new K-12 school for Chattanooga School for Liberal Arts on East Brainerd Road, which could eventually siphon students from the East Hamilton/Ooltewah zones.  The new CSLA school is listed in "Phase 2" of the current construction plan, and officials say it could be approximately 3-5 years away.

The school district has also purchased land behind the current Apison Elementary School that has been rumored to be the site of a future middle school.  However, there are no current plans to construct such a facility.

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