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Carson holds ‘town meeting’ at Lotts

When “Hardin Valley High School” opens in 2008, West Knox’s long-awaited new school will ease crowding and be “adequate to meet pupils’ needs,” Knox County Board of Education representatives told parents at a Jan. 10 community meeting.

Karen Carson, representing District 5, told parents at A.L. Lotts Elementary School that rising construction cost estimates meant the “northwest sector” high school might lack frills. But she predicted the Board, by school opening, will find enough revenue to ensure pupils have such necessities as desks, lockers, computers and communications gear.

Carson conceded she was “not thrilled” at the site chosen, near Hardin Valley Elementary, and she agreed with parents who predicted resulting school traffic congestion along Hardin Valley and Campbell Station roads.

But the growth already has occurred, she said. So Knox County must fund and build the school now, although funds for furniture, fixtures and equipment remain uncertain.

Carson, who represents Cedar Bluff and Bearden schools, held a two-hour dialogue with 30 people, mostly parents, in hopes of easing confusion caused by recent revisions in “northwest sector” school plans. Knox County Commission-ers Craig A. Leuthold and Mike Hammond, both of the 5th District, attended.

Leuthold said the meeting provided useful feedback, especially on parents’ concerns about school attendance zones. Leuthold said he, as father of a seventh-grader who may later attend “Hardin Valley High,” has an added interest in school plans.

He said: “I want to ensure the school will be finished with all it needs to be top-notch. I’ll do all I can to see the school’s adequately funded. We should build it right the first time.”

School officials broke ground in December for the school only after construction cost estimates had exceeded $50 million in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

A unanimous board voted Jan. 4 to trim $10 million from costs by deferring these items:

• A geothermal heating/cooling system now to be leased, not purchased

• Baseball and softball playing fields

• Reduction in student parking from about 800 spaces to 195.

Board members winced at a proposal to eliminate school athletic fields and cut student capacity to 1,300. Carson was glad that didn’t happen. Items retained included the school’s auditorium, gym, cafeteria, band room and its wider 11-foot corridors.

“I voted ‘yes’ (to $10 million in deferments) to move ahead, to get this building built,” Carson said. But she called it “unrealistic to say we’re opening a school on $40 million. To do it right, this will be a $50 million school,” she said. “This won’t be a grand high school but, by the time it opens, we’ll have all the things we need. There are (budget) areas we can pull from.”

Carson called it unrealistic to plan just 195 parking spaces for 2,000 students. Fewer spaces, she said, might mean students would try to park on nearby private property.

Dr. Dan Murphy, Board chairman, said the community badly needs a high school because Farragut, Bearden, Karns and West highs all exceed 85 percent of capacity.

Carson said attendance zones must also be adjusted “or we’ll be dealing with the same problem again.” She cited studies projecting up to 800 added West Knox students by 2015.

“We need a school for eighteen hundred to two thousand,” Carson said. “Land’s available for another pod, but we really don’t want a high school larger than 2,000.”

The school will open with freshmen and sophomores in 2008, plans say, with those students filling out the school as juniors and seniors, respectfully, by fall 2010.

Parents at Tuesday’s meeting discussed whether the school should offer a traditional format or an academy with its curricula divided to let students focus on specialties such as health sciences, technology, public affairs, or visual and performing arts.

Census reports say Farragut’s population grew by about 4,600 residents in the 1990s. Murphy noted that a Cedar Bluff Elementary expansion has begun. And Carson said the board, based on West Knox growth, has budgeted $2.5 million to buy land for a new elementary school, perhaps in the McFee community. The district will spend $13.5 million more next year toward building one.

Carson added, “The district needs new schools, not just to be prettier, but to take care of kids who are already there.”


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