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KCSB talks ‘new school’

West Knoxville school board members were outspoken at the Knox County Schools Board of Education work session Monday, Sept. 20.

Chuck James, 6th district, and Karen Carson, 5th district, asked questions and commented on many of the session’s main topics including the building of a new West Knox County high school.

Newly elected Board Chairman Dan Murphy, 4th district, presided. Murphy succeeded Sam Anderson, 1st district, who completed his term as chair and chose not to run again.

Murphy began the discussion regarding the construction of a new school by stressing the need to fully understand any revenue source coming from Knox County.

“The devil’s in the details,” Murphy said. “I’m not sure what monies are committed to a new school … getting down to the details is going to determine when we can do anything.”

Mike Arms, Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale’s chief of staff, said the mayor would be meeting with Murphy to discuss funding details and hoped to set up monthly meetings that include superintendent Dr. Charles Lindsey.

Murphy noted the cost of a new school goes beyond construction. Expenses such as operating costs (estimated at $4 to $6 million a year), “will have a recurring budgetary impact,” he said.

Doug Whitted, KCS supervisor of new facilities and construction, along with Doug Dillingham, KCS contract administrator who would be instrumental in the design of a new school, presented a timeline with one scenario of the length of time it would take to move students into a new high school if the process began next month. The timeline was constructed using the school system’s usual “design, bid and build model” on a building more than 317,000 square feet in size and assumed that land had already been purchased.

Whitted’s example timeline had students moving into a new high school in August 2009.

Board members noted that the high school would not have to be that large.

Whitted added, “there are other methods to condense the time down” such as enforcing monetary fines if construction deadlines are not met. He warned that such stipulations could end up creating higher bid amounts.

Murphy commented on the timeline, “There are a lot of ifs here… . This is assuming smooth sailing at the approval level.”

Whitted noted the need to obtain land before the process could begin and how it took more than two years to find and purchase land for Ridgedale Elementary, one of the school system’s more recent building projects.

James asked Whitted if the process of finding land had begun.

Whitted said he had met with several developers and said, “There are some good parcels there.”

Whitted said several factors had to be met before considering a piece of land, the most important being topography, accessibility and capability for utilities. “We want a gentle slope but we’ve got to remember where we are,” he said.

Whitted estimated the need for more than 40 acres for the new facility and said his staff had looked at about 200 pieces of land since the construction of a new West school first became a priority of the board in 2000.

He added that the cost of property has escalated since the search began. He compared it to land at A.L. Lotts Elementary School. Land for that school was purchased at $16,000 per acre. When additional adjacent land was needed less than 10 years later, the price jumped to $72,000 per acre.

Superintendent Lindsey noted how the price of land tends to increase when owners are aware the school system is inquiring. That’s why the board keeps possible locations “close to our vest,” he said.

New board member Indya Kincannon, 2nd district, asked why a school couldn’t be built “up instead of out.”

Dillingham explained that it costs about $30 more per square foot to build more than two stories high because of the costs associated with fire protection.

Murphy concluded that the board would not sign off on any long term projects without a long term revenue stream to pay for them.


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