County readies for school growth

North Middle School teacher Julie Jones helps eighth-grader Brooklyn Walker with an in-class assignment.

Loudon County Board of Education officially started discussions on how to prepare for a growth explosion.

Board members talked during a Thursday workshop about an increase of students at Philadelphia Elementary School and the possibility of a new school on the northern end of the county.

“The next step is for me to work with Cope Architecture to develop a proposed contract for the board to review in regard to Cope providing us with a site analysis study for a new school facility on the northern end of the county,” Mike Garren, county director of schools, said in an email correspondence. “If the board approves their proposal, then we would begin evaluating potential school sites and bring options back to the board to consider.

“... I would like to begin the site analysis after the contract is approved in November and have potential options for the board to consider in the spring,” he added. “Once a selection is made, then we would need to work with county commission to purchase land and fund the project.”

A board retreat is set for March at Loudon County Technology Center.

“We can do it to any depth that you want, but a typical site analysis — if you’re looking for property to make a decision on a purchase for a new school — would be a schematic design-type topographical analysis of what we think could fit depending on if you want sports fields and those types of things,” Cayce Smith, Cope president, said during the workshop. “Utilities, whether if there’s utilities to the site or not, if there aren’t how long and a cost estimate for that. We can even get down into bus routing and things like that. There’s a laundry list of things that we can look at and we would maybe narrow that down in order for me to get you a cost per site.”

She said Cope did a similar study in 2017 that compared three sites.

Eaton Elementary and North Middle schools have dealt with traffic congestion for several years, which board member Scott Newman believes could be lessened with a new facility. The student population at NMS is 778.

Board members will consider a high school for grades 7-12.

“One of the things that Mike and I had discussed early on was, of course, the possibility of building something up on this upper end and we knew the needs and the facilities of Eaton and North Middle,” Brian Brown, board member, said. “One of the recommendations that I had actually made to Mr. Garren was that if we were take seventh and eighth grade out of North Middle then we could move a couple of the grades from Eaton, move them into North and have plenty of room for growth and look at the possibility of building a high school up on this upper end because the need is here now. We could actually make that a seven through 12.

“... Just looking at the possibility of us being able to retain the students, the county students that we have, and keep them in the county system,” he added. “I think that’s a huge benefit for us, and also just for the amount of growth we’re looking at potentially in Lenoir City and Loudon. There’s a tremendous amount of real estate that’s being developed right now and just where we are ... with our numbers currently, when we look at that growth, a high school just makes sense.”

Garren anticipates sending NMS parents a survey to gauge interest for a high school on the northern end of the county and if they would like children to be bused to Loudon High School until the new school can open.

“The survey will be distributed Monday, Oct. 18, and returned Friday, Oct. 22,” Garren said. “All parents of North Middle School students grades 5-8 will be surveyed for input. We will send out a Skylert message letting parents know it is coming home.”

The board in August sold land for $2.02 million that the district had owned since 2006. Garren said the property, which was near Interstate 40, was not suitable for a school.

“We have some options,” Brown said. “Of course, in order to purchase some property, we know right now that property’s at a premium and I think it will be a challenge to find property that is suitable to build on. I know we’ve thrown a couple of things around looking at whether we’re going to have to purchase additional property, whether we can look at doing something on property that we already own. But we’d be limited there, so I think the fact of having to find real estate is what we’re probably going to end up doing at this point.”

Philly growth

Garren hopes to have Cope assess PES to address anticipated enrollment growth.

“The next step is for me to work with Cope Architecture to develop a proposed contract for the board to review in regard to Cope providing us with a facility assessment for an addition to the facility,” Garren said. “If the board approves their proposal, then we would begin evaluating appropriate additional space and bring options back to the board to consider.”

PES is the only remaining school in the district with portable classrooms.

“I can’t stand the fact of using portable classrooms because anytime you have to move kids outside of the building to transition from a class, then I think it comprises their safety,” Brown said. “If we can actually add on to that building and get enough classrooms to where we can get rid of the portables and have enough room for growth, then I think that’s exactly what we’re looking for.”

Garren said a site assessment is “essential” for the school with 495 students.

“The facility assessment will provide us with information on how much potential there is for an addition to the existing facility given the current constraints and the best locations to add space,” he said.

With the district on fall break, a regular meeting was held following the workshop. During that meeting, the board:

• Approved a Highland Elementary School Americans with Disabilities Act ramp and authorized Garren to go to Loudon County Commission to ask for funding from the Adequate Facilities Tax.

• Passed budget amendments to Funds 141 and 142.

• Passed a 2021 LEA compliance report.

• Approved the 2022-23 school calendar.

• Recognized Brown and Zack Cusick receiving Level III and Level I boardsmanship awards at a recent Tennessee School Boards Association regional meeting.