By Keeli Parkey
The Unicoi County School System’s return to four Kindergarten through fifth grade (K-5) elementary schools will be complete before classes begin in August.
During a regularly scheduled meeting of the Unicoi County Board of Education on Thursday, June 9, Director of Schools John English told the board that staff worked the previous two weeks on the move.
“We have been physically making the move,” he continued. “As of yesterday, the modulars (which had been home to Love Chapel Elementary) are completely cleared. All furniture, desks, everything is out.
“I cannot tell you that all the schools are ready to start school Monday. We are a bit away from that, but by the time school starts they will be. I want to thank our teachers and principals. Our teachers have spent a good part of the start of their summer getting their rooms ready. Our maintenance and custodial crew has done some backbreaking work.”
English said the decking and awnings installed on the modulars will be removed in the coming weeks. He also said the modulars will remain on the site while the lease company searches for a buyer for them.
“I think we can all agree, that at the end of this, it is going to be a great thing for our system and our students,” he also said.
In February, the board unanimously voted to close Unicoi County Intermediate School (UCIS) and return all of the county’s elementary schools to K-5 campuses beginning in the 2016-17 school year.
The move to close the UCIS, which has been the home to all of the county’s fourth and fifth grade classes in recent years, was prompted by the expiration of the lease on the modular buildings which had been home to Love Chapel Elementary for three years.
A sinkhole found on the original campus of Love Chapel in August 2012 led to the permanent closure of that building. 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 previously 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.
Had the board voted to keep Love Chapel at the modular campus, the system was expected to pay approximately $1.1 million for the modulars. Not purchasing the modulars gives the system $1.1 million for necessary capital projects, including renovations at Temple Hill.
In March, the board unanimously awarded a $1.1 million bid for those renovations to Preston Construction of Johnson City. These renovations will allow the school to serve the school system for years, English previously said.
“Architecturally, the Temple Hill building is sound,” he said at the time. “We have had engineers and architects look at it. These renovations will give us 15 years or longer in that building.
“We have to have the space due to the K-5 consolidation, and Temple Hill is vital to that. We couldn’t make this move without Temple Hill. It comes down to understanding that our county is not, and will not be for the foreseeable future, ready to build a new school.”
English said the “long overdue” renovations include a new roof, new wiring, a new gym floor, bathroom renovations and the installation of a new HVAC system.
“The current roof is 28 years old and past its lifetime,” English added. “The wiring in that school is original, which means it is 66 years old. That is a safety issue.
“The current gym floor is in bad shape and there have been a lot of condensation problems with it, so they are going to install a vapor barrier under the new gym floor.
“Yes, $1.1 million is a lot of money, but the building needs a lot of work,” English continued. “To keep that school viable, this work needed to be done. These are necessities to keep the building functioning.”
Temple Hill will be home to approximately 140 students beginning next school year, according to English.
During Thursday’s meeting, English said work at Temple Hill is progressing on schedule.
Also in March, the system announced the first of several faculty moves for the transition to four K-5 elementary schools.
English said that Ben Evely will remain principal of Love Chapel Elementary as it transitions to a K-5 school and relocates to the former UCIS building.
Also, Debbie Lamie, who served as principal at UCIS, will now be in charge of testing and assessment, as well as grant writing for the school system, English said.
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Also during the June 9 meeting, the board:
• Approved a differentiated pay plan for 2016-17;
• Approved amendment #7 to the original general purpose budget for 2015-16;
• Approved revision #6 to federal programs consolidated budget for ESEA 2015-16;
• Approved revisions to 10 policies;
• Awarded a bid for copy paper to Contract Paper Group for $14,400;
• Approved the use of the Unicoi County High School track for Relay For Life on Sept. 16-17.
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The board is scheduled to meet in a work session on July 11 at 5:30 p.m. and in regular session on July 14 at 6 p.m.