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Board of Education to vote on consolidation

After three public forums, during which they received input from teachers, parents and other community stakeholders, the Unicoi County Board of Education is ready to vote on the future of Love Chapel Elementary School.
With the lease on the modular buildings which currently house the school coming to an end, the school system is faced with a decision: Purchase the modulars for approximately $1 million or allow the lease to expire?
According to Director of Schools John English, the board will make its decision during its regularly scheduled meeting set for Thursday, Feb. 11, at 6 p.m. at the Central Office, 100 Nolichucky Ave., Erwin. The board will meet in a work session at 5 p.m.
Should the board vote to purchase the modulars, Love Chapel Elementary will remain at its present location on Mohawk Drive in Erwin, between the Unicoi County Intermediate S chool and Unicoi County High School.
If the board votes to allow the lease on the modulars to expire, the system must find a new home for Love Chapel. To do this, English previously said, the system will dissolve the intermediate school, make all the county elementary schools Kindergarten through fifth grade (K-5) schools and use the building that now houses the intermediate school as the new home for Love Chapel. The county’s elementary schools – Unicoi, Rock Creek, Temple Hill and Love Chapel – currently only house Kindergarten through third grade classes.
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English and the board presented the proposed K-5 consolidation to the public during three recent community forums. At these forums, the director and board fielded questions about the move and how it would impact students.
Prior to these forums, English said he and the board favored allowing the modular lease to expire, consolidating the elementary schools and moving Love Chapel to the current intermediate school building.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me to spend another approximately $1 million dollars on modulars,” English previously said. “We have already spent approximately $3 million on them. Modulars cannot be a permanent home for a school. Even though the faculty, staff, parents and students of Love Chapel have made the best out of a difficult situation, the time has come to give them a real school building.
“We have space at all the elementary schools to house Kindergarten through fifth grade classes,” English also said. “We don’t have to do any construction at Unicoi, Rock Creek, Temple Hill and the intermediate school buildings to make this move.”
Following the final public forum, which was held at Unicoi County High School on Thursday, Feb. 4, English said he and the board have received “very positive feedback” about the proposed K-5 consolidation and making the intermediate school the new home for Love Chapel’s faculty, staff and students.
“We feel this is the best move for our students,” English said of the proposal. “From the responses we have received from teachers, parents and the community, it seems they agree.”
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Should the board vote on Thursday to move forward with the K-5 consolidation, there are still questions to be answered and plans to be made. English and the board offered answers to some of these issues during the public forum on Feb. 4.
One question asked of English and the board was how the consolidation would impact the preschool classes in the county.
“This board is extremely committed to Pre-K,” English said. “… Pre-K is a critical component of development. We have no plans to change Pre-K.”
English was also asked about zoning and how the system will determine which elementary school this year’s fourth graders will return to for fifth grade.
“We don’t want students to go through transitions if we can help it,” English said. “The one group that this is a little bit challenging for is this year’s fourth grade. This year’s third graders will stay where they are. … It is important for us to be where they are comfortable. We would like the fourth graders to go back to the elementary school they previously attended.”
Forum attendees also asked about staffing at the schools. English said he has met with the fourth and fifth grade teachers and asked for them to give him their top three preferences regarding which elementary school they will move to. He also said personnel issues will be addressed moving forward.
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Love Chapel was moved to the modulars three years ago. A sinkhole found on the original campus of Love Chapel in August 2012 led to the permanent closure of that campus. Before moving to the modulars in August 2013, Love Chapel classes were held at Unicoi County Intermediate School and Unicoi County Middle School during the 2012-2013 school year.
English said the system received $4 million in insurance funds from the closure of the former Love Chapel campus. Of that $4 million, approximately $3 million was used to lease the modulars and make the facility function as a school.
The director also said the remaining approximately $1 million, if not used to purchase the modulars, could be used for necessary capital projects throughout the system.
“If we move forward with the consolidation, we are going to need to invest in the buildings we already have,” English said. “For example, the Temple Hill building has not had a new roof in 26 years.”