School facility projects progress

Jeremy Nash

The new LHS wing is under roof except the north connector hall, according to documentation provided during a Loudon County Board of Education workshop earlier this month.

“It’s getting close to done,” Jason Vance, director of schools, said. “They’re doing some finishing touches right now putting sheet rock on and painting, doing some close-out type of work. Our computer technicians right now are doing some wiring to make sure we’ve got everything accessible for our computers and our laptops, smart boards, things of that nature. So, we’re thinking probably somewhere in February we might be able to start closing out on that wing.

“I’m hopeful that we can figure out the weather here,” Vance added. “It seems like it didn’t rain forever and now it’s rained every day since we had the weather come in.”

Vance said he hopes to have the property paved before asphalt factories close. Hopes are to have the building finished sometime in February and complete any remaining punch list items at that point.
Vance said despite the LHS wing addition project going smoothly, like any construction there have been problems along the way, such as initial “water issues” where officials looked to tap into the waterline and figure out where to move electricity.
“We’re not going to be in any super hurry to move into the building because we want to do it in phases to try to make sure we don’t disrupt the atmosphere at the high school,” Vance said. “But it would be nice to be able to start moving in during springtime, maybe a few classes at a time, and then be able to be fully occupying the building between now and the time school lets out. That way for the upcoming school year we’ll just be able to roll in it like it’s just our everyday business.”
Construction at LHS has cost about $7 million. The project entails adding 12 classrooms, a culinary arts room, a new band room, two additional science laboratories, more dining room space and a secure entryway in the front of the building leading to a new administration office.
A plan presented by Cope Associates Inc., last year shows the main addition is 33,340 square feet, and the dining room area is 3,368 square feet.
“I think it’s going to be great for the community and some of the classes that we’re going to be able to offer and expand with that new addition is going to be huge for some of our career ed department and our science labs,” Bobby Johnson Jr., school board member, said. “It’s an addition that’s, gosh, been a long time in the making. With that and the new middle school, we’re going to be able to do a lot of stuff that we haven’t been able to do in the past.”
The project overall has gone “great,” Vance said. A ribbon cutting ceremony could be held in February or March.
“It’ll be great, and I will say that because that only leaves Highland Park at this point in time that’s looming in the distance, and so really we’re seeing that come to close sometime really quickly as well,” Vance said. “I’m thinking that’ll be a completion date of sometime in July (for Highland Park). So, really what we’ve done is we’ve completed several building projects over the past few years and that’s a great problem to have.”
School board members broke ground at HPES in November. All site work, storm drainage and footings are complete.
“We’ve got the foundation laid and I think they’re up to the subfloor at this point in time,” Vance said. “They’re prepared to move forward with the cinder block walls but we’ve got an issue with the fire hydrant that we’re working through at this point in time. So, it’s my hope that we’re able to come to a resolution with (Lenoir City Utilities Board) and the local fire officials in order to come to a resolution at some point in time to be able to move forward with that. So they’re on track and making good progress at this point but we’ve just got to figure out how to move forward with the fire hydrant issue.”
Vance said specs call for another fire hydrant to be added to the property, but LCUB and fire officials have expressed hesitancy on placement.
“I’m not sure LCUB is going to be in agreement to allow us to install a new fire hydrant,” Vance said. “If they don’t, then we’ll have to consider another alternative that could be potentially a costly measure.”
HPES work is estimated at $3 million to renovate the kitchen and cafeteria area, add more classroom space and provide a new library, which Vance said is something Highland Park has not enjoyed.
“That’s probably the last school in the system that doesn’t have a library space that’s a true library, that’s really almost a classroom space,” Vance said. “I think all those things into consideration make it a great school and provide for our needs quite well.
“It is a small school and you wouldn’t think that’d be a big of a deal, but really it’ll get all the students out of the portables into the regular school building and it’ll create an opportunity for students that are in classrooms underneath the gymnasium to be able to be in classrooms that are obviously more conducive to learning to where you don’t have the noise associated to gym,” he said. “And it’ll provide an art room and a music room that we’ve not really had before.”
If completed by July, Vance said the addition could be ready for use by August.
“All along our goal was to get all our kids into the standing building and not the — and get away from these portables,” Scott Newman, school board member, said.