Improvements of Carter County schools discussed

By Lesley Jenkins
star staff

Although major improvements have been made to Carter County schools in the last decade, there is much more work that needs to be done to keep up with the inevitable decay caused by time and to eliminate a lapse in the system's ability to meet the demands of advanced technology.
Tony Street, a consultant from the architect company Beeson, Luskin, and Street, Inc., who conducted a survey of the county school system in 1996 has returned to help the Carter County School Board determine how to handle overcrowded classrooms at Unaka Elementary, the decayed 60-year- old Valley Forge Elementary building, and lapsed technology in classrooms.
The Building Committee of the school board met Monday to discuss the need for a new school in the Stoney Creek area. Chairman of the committee, Daniel Holder, said the board needs to "develop a long range plan to see what we need." He said the board knows that the need for a new Stoney Creek school needs to be addressed first.
The board discussed what type of school would be built. Members tossed around the idea of building a new high school and moving Unaka Elementary students into the current Unaka High School, or possibly transforming the current high school into a grade six to eight facility.
"I'm trying to look at the best solution for that area and the whole county," Holder said. Holder believes building a high school in the Stoney Creek area in a more central location would also alleviate some of the overcrowding at Hampton Elementary.
"Everybody here needs to speak up about what they think is best," Holder said.
Gebe Ritchie stated that he knows of some "property right in the middle of Stoney Creek available for sale only to the school system in order to keep a school on Stoney Creek."
Steve Chambers agreed that the people of Stoney Creek have been waiting a long time to have a new school built, but he argued that the school in Valley Forge is over 60 years old. "We have five portables (classrooms) we're using," said Chambers. "We're desperately in need of better facilities. Somewhere down the line we have to look at a new school in Valley Forge."
Holder acknowledged that Valley Forge Elementary is in need of work; however, due to the location, there is no way to expand the current building. Even if an expansion was built, students would need to attend another school during reconstruction, which could take up to two years.
Despite the need at Valley Forge, the majority of committee members believe a new school in Stoney Creek is a higher priority. School board member, Chuck Madgett, suggested that a list of priorities be drawn and a long term plan decided.
Street will conduct a comprehensive study of all county schools to prioritize needs and determine what can be done to meet them. He projected the study will be complete in 4-6 weeks.