CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Parents and teachers at the Chattanooga School for Liberal Arts (CSLA) say they're tired of always being "next in line" for the new school they've been promised since 1999.
According to a facilities review report conducted by the School Board in March of 1999, CSLA was scheduled for a new school in "Phase II" (between 2002 and 2004). Since that time, seventeen new schools have been built, two more are under construction, and another is awaiting architectural approval. CSLA is still "next in line" according to parents whose patience has worn thin.
"The property is here, there's plenty of acreage," said parent Dionne Jennings, referring to a vast, undeveloped portion of the 40 acre campus. The current school, built in 1949, sits on the front of the property, with the vast majority behind the school. A small portion is used for sports fields, while most is a wooded area.
With a new Red Bank Middle almost complete, a new East Brainerd Elementary soon to be constructed and a new Ooltewah Elementary on the drawing board, the lack of plans for CSLA, already with property attached, has raised the frustration level to a new high.
Principal Krystal Scarbrough said, "One member of our staff had a child in kindergarten when she was told a new school was on the schedule. Parents have long been told this school would expand to K-12, and their children could graduate from here. But that was thirteen years ago."
Pointing with pride to CSLA's sky-high academic scores, Scarbrough said, "Even through the challenges we face in this building, our teachers are doing a phenomenal job. We have a long waiting list of families who want to send their children here, because they have done their homework, and they know this school works. But when you look at this building, you have to wonder how long it will hold up."
Everywhere you look, there's structural damage, bricks and blocks that have shifted, concrete that has fallen, paint that has chipped, ceiling tiles and walls damaged and dampened by every hard rain. County officials, understandably have been reluctant to pour money for repairs and renovations into a building that is always on a "soon to be replaced" list. Still, not a shovel of dirt has been turned. Indeed, most new construction talk has recently centered around new schools for rapidly growing East Brainerd/Harrison area, and replacements for other aging schools such as Harrison, Ganns Middle Valley, Alpine Crest, Dupont, Rivermont and Falling Water elementary schools.
Scarbrough said, "Certainly there are buildings all over the county that need to be renovated or replaced. But we serve children from throughout the county. Some families drive long distances to be here. Build us a new k-12 school and we can help alleviate the overcrowding in the East Brainerd/Ooltewah area, and we can help CSAS (Chattanooga School for Arts and Sciences, a downtown magnet school) as well. A new school here helps the whole district."
Superintendent Rick Smith said he couldn't give an exact date for a new CSLA, but said, "Tell them we haven't forgotten them. We know the property is there, and we're going to talk about it soon."