Summertime has been anything but quiet outside Central High School, as land is being cleared, dirt is being moved, and roads are being built. In the years to come, once unused land will be buzzing with activity. Wright Brothers Construction is building a new State Industrial Access Road to access the Volkswagen site from Highway 58, and at some future date provide access to I-75. School officials are most excited about the site preparation for a new elementary school, and athletic fields at virtually no cost to taxpayers.
There was excess soil on the project and the Hamilton County School Board entered into an agreement with Wright Brothers to allow them to place the excess soil on school property. Wright Brothers also paid $312,000 for necessary engineering services. The newly developed site will provide space for a new Harrison Elementary School in the near future and allow future development of additional athletic fields for Central and neighboring Brown Middle School.
Assistant superintendent Gary Waters, who has overseen the construction of almost 30 new schools in his career, says, "It is quite a difference you're seeing outside Central. It was just a wooded area, and soon we'll have two pads ready to build on."
The project has been in the works for years, and required cooperation and participation from various entities: the state, the city, the county, the school district, engineers and road builders. As a bonus, Hamilton County schools received almost 2 million dollars in site improvements at no cost and the contractor and state saved money by not having to haul excess soil away from the site. Waters estimated the cost savings to the school district to be between $1.5 and 2 million dollars. He said, "The effect of Volkswagen on this community is tremendous. Our enrollment is up since they arrived, primarily in the eastern part of the county, and the school and road construction here on Highway 58 is a direct result of their impact."
Board chairman Mike Evatt said, "This is exciting, and all parties deserve credit for making this happen. We're getting all this, for zero dollars basically."
The deal solves several problems for the school district. It can move forward with plans to replace the 77-year-old Harrison Elementary on one of the sites, and provide new athletic fields for Central High and Brown Middle on the other. At the same time, the state is building an entry road to provide access from Highway 58 to the Volkswagen plant near at Enterprise South near I-75.
Although the terrain was hilly and uneven, engineer Russell Moorehead of Barge Waggoner Sumner and Cannon said his team knew it was a viable project from day one. "I think everybody involved saw the benefits to the school district, the state, to motorists and to the workforce. We were honored to be a part of this job, it is a win-win situation." The school district already owned the 106-acre tract, having once been a portion of the former Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant. It had been transferred to the district by the federal government several years ago for future school facility use.
It isn't much to look at now, but within a few years, the cooperation and work that made this project possible will change the way thousands of residents go to school, and go to work, at a bargain to taxpayers. Waters said, "I have to give a lot of credit to the School Board, because they got behind this quickly, allowing us to put all the right people in place. It isn't often you can get the site preparation, the dirt removal and other necessities done at a zero dollar investment." Waters said work on the athletic fields could begin as early as next spring, and the nearby elementary school site will be "ready to go" as soon as construction funds are approved by the Hamilton County Commission. He credited S&ME Engineering and Barge Waggoner Sumner and Cannon for their efforts in expediting the project.
Superintendent Rick Smith called the site work "a great partnership that benefits everyone. Schools will benefit from this, and we will all benefit from the growth associated with the connecting road. The contractor needed to move dirt, and we had just the place to put it, keeping their trucks off the highways. This is good for the school district and the state, and it's a cost savings for everyone."