Polk County Schools system prepares to launch planning for a new facility

By LARRY C. BOWERS Banner Staff Writer
Posted 1/17/17

Polk County Director of Schools Dr. James Jones is preparing to guide his administration, the board of education, and the Polk County Commission through another major construction project.

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Polk County Schools system prepares to launch planning for a new facility

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Polk County Director of Schools Dr. James Jones is preparing to guide his administration, the board of education, and the Polk County Commission through another major construction project.

The county is on the threshold of launching a new, multimillion dollar project, although the board has not yet decided to build a new elementary school, or an elementary/middle school complex.

In a recent interview, Jones emphasized that the Polk County Schools system has some overcrowding, but the need for a new school — or school complex — is for another reason altogether.

“Two of our six schools are very old facilities, so it is the age of the schools that has brought about the need for a new facility,” said Jones.

Facilities being used at Chilhowee Middle, Benton Elementary, and Copper Basin Elementary were built in the early portion of the 20th century, according to the director.

Jones is pleased with Polk County’s education team, which he has put together over the past 12 years. He also expressed confidence in the current board of education, and the educational sympathies of the Polk Commission.

He said the governing body appears to be receptive to the need for a new school facility, and has stepped up to adequately fund other major projects in the past few years.

“We went to them and asked for $500,000 for buses, and they provided the money,” he said. “We then came back to them a couple of years later and they financed more than $1.2 million for school roofs.”

Jones and the school board are ready to take the initial step in this multiple-step construction project. “We first want to obtain the property,” said the director of schools. This will be followed by a decision on what type of structure to build, an effort to work out funding, and a timeline for the project.

The school system’s staff and the school board are looking at properties surrounding the Polk County High School complex for the new construction. Jones said they have talked with property owner Gavin Cheek, who has 55 acres of available property just south of the high school.

The Cheek property does not have road frontage on U.S. Highway 411, as does the high school, but there is a road that runs along the south side of the high school complex.

Jones said they have not talked with the owners of the other parcels.

The director said the board, and school system staff, anticipate it will require 50-plus acres for construction needs.

Jones agreed that the county’s school district is unusually situated. There are four schools in the lowland, on west side of the county, and two on the mountain in Copper Basin.

Polk County high, Chilhowee Middle and Benton Elementary are located in and around Benton, while South Polk Elementary is a short distance away.

Copper Basin High School and elementary school are up on the mountain.

The school board rotates its monthly meeting from school to school, and this week’s 7 p.m. Thursday meeting will be at Copper Basin Elementary.

The agenda for January’s board meeting includes discussion and possible action on a wellness policy, procurement policy, and approval of a contract for upgrades to the Polk County High School Network.

The board’s packet includes information concerning the wellness policy. It emphasizes that “The Polk County School District is committed to providing school environments that promote and protect children’s health, well-being, and ability to learn by supporting healthy eating and physical activity.”

The district’s procurement plan provides for free and open competition, transparency in transactions, comparability, and documentation of all procurement activities.

The procurement plan will sort out specific categories, procurement methods, evaluations used, contract award type, and the contract’s duration and frequency.

The high school’s network contract will be through Sept. 30, 2017, with EduTech Inc. The contract is for $73,995.

The Polk County Board of Education is comprised of Robert Cole, James Davis, David Goode, David Green, Harmon Harden, Stan Howard, Jayson Lamb, Shawn Pritchett and Mark Williams.

Jones also praised the school system’s six principals, adding that he receives additional help and guidance from former employees.

“We have several alumni who come back and work with us, such as former South Polk Elementary Principal Tammy Dunn,” he said.

Dunn attended Bradley Central High School, and was a basketball player for former Hall-of-Fame Coach Jim Smiddy a number of years ago.

Polk County principals are Ronnie German at Polk County High School, Ryan Goodman at Copper Basin High School, Donnie Dunn at Chilhowee Middle School, Dr. Tracy McAbee at Benton Elementary, Frances Bramlett at South Polk Elementary, and Jill Franklin at Copper Basin Elementary.

Asked about additional projects being considered for Polk County Schools, Jones said Polk High needs a soccer field.

“We also need to complete the baseball and softball complex at Copper Basin High School, which is about two-thirds complete,” he said.

“We are very excited about our high schools, which are both ‘Five Star’ schools,” Jones said. “Still, we always have room to improve in achievement.” The two high schools, and South Polk Elementary, were built more recently than the other facilities.

The greatest need at Polk County Schools appears to be the proposed new school, or a combination-school complex.

The school system has around 2,550 students, with approximately one-third of them at the two Copper Basin schools on the mountain, which are located on the same schools complex.

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