By Collin Brooks
After a 10-year process of ups and downs, it appears that Liberty Bell and Johnson City officials will finally get their wish to build a new gymnasium and cafeteria for Liberty Bell students.
The new structure will eliminate Liberty Bell’s dependance on Freedom Hall, which currently houses their gym classes and cafeteria.
Architects Tim Shanks and Tom Shaw went over preliminary drawings of the 39,000 square foot facility with the Johnson City Board of Education Facilities Committee on Thursday. There next step will be to meet with Liberty Bell Principal Tammy Pearce and Science Hill Athletic Director Keith Turner before they show the preliminary drawings to the full board of education during their August 7 meeting.
“We’ve been waiting 10 years for this,” said Board of Education Vice-Chairman Kathy Hall, who mentioned she thought the board of education members would be eager to see the design.
The current drawings show the gymnasium with a seating capacity of about 1,176 people. However, committee members felt like it is necessary to push that number for 1,300, considering next year’s enrollment at the school with be close to 1,243 students.
The cafeteria will house 350-360 students, which is larger than the 240 students that the current cafeteria inside Freedom Hall will accommodate. That forces the school to have six different lunch periods, with the first starting at 10:30 AM. That will be reduced to four periods, if the new facility is built.
Also getting out of Freedom Hall everyday school functions could allow the city to bring in a third-party managing company to book events for the facility.
The new gym is expected to have a price tag of $8.5 to $9 million with all furnishings, with construction costs coming in at close to $7.5 million. Peterson said that the city could have the project ready to bid by December.
“I’ve been watching it for 10 years,” Johnson City Superintendent Dr. Steve Barnett said. “Some people may ask if we really need it, but the safety of our students is very important. And I think this could be great for the community as a whole.”
The facility will also have a classroom and perhaps a partial basement for storage space. It will also have three 15-locker locker-rooms and one 40 locker locker-room for physical education.
However, parking could be an issue, since there is very limited parking space around the new proposed site, that sits on the right side of the entrance to the building. The exterior will blend with the brick appearance that is currently carried on Science Hill’s campus.
The group also discussed whether the school system would have any interest in purchasing two pieces of property, one that will soon be vacated on the Science Hill campus which is currently owned by a church. The other is a 7-acre piece of property that is adjacent to Cherokee Elementary.
The city will contact the church to discuss a possible sale price for the small piece of property that is currently on the Science Hill campus, the acquisition of that property could help reroute the bus congestion that happens on Science Hill’s campus during dismissal.
“If we can get this at a good price, I think it’s a no-brainer,” said Peterson, who noted Assistant City Manager Charlie Stahl was contacted by the church a few weeks ago. The city will now reach back out to them to see if they can settle on a price.
No action was taken on the piece of property next to Cherokee, as the city will wait to see what the wishes are from the full board of education.
But Peterson cautioned the group that there would be a lot of dirt that would need to be moved on the property in order to make it useable. Peterson estimated that to grade the 7-acre piece of property that is priced at $140,000 would take an investment of $2 or $3 million. That number didn’t sit well with committee members, especially since the piece of property is currently valued on tax documents at $75,200. Peterson said that he would suggest passing on it, but deferred to the board’s suggestion.
But, acquiring that property would mean that Cherokee School would no longer be landlocked. Cherokee will be open to tuition students this year for the first time in almost five years.
Dr. Steve Barnett took over as the Johnson City School Superintendent and he is working toward different initiatives as he begins to oversee the school system.
He and other members of central officer will be working on long-range capital needs over the next 30 days. Some of those long-range plans could include looking at different schools and seeing if they need to have additions, which could be an option at Woodland and Lake Ridge.
The new administrators will also start to see if the grade configurations of the system are working or if they need to be moved. One thing that will be looked at is whether the system needs to add another middle school.
Dr. Roger Walk, will also be included in the meeting with Pearce and Turner as he is taking over some of the duties for Dave Chupa who served as supervisor of instruction and facilities for the Johnson City School System and recently retired.