Hamilton County Builds Massive Elementary Schools

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Hamilton County in Tennessee is opening some massive elementary schools to keep pace with its growing student population.

The first to open was the 1,100-student Ooltewah Elementary School in August 2013. When the $19.5 million school opened, it was the largest elementary school in the district. East Brainerd Elementary School will debut this August with the same 1,100-student capacity.

Later this month, county officials will unseal construction bids for the new Ganns Middle Valley Elementary School. It, too, is expected to hold roughly 1,000 students, and it will replace two of the county’s oldest school buildings: the 77-year-old Ganns Middle Valley Elementary and the 102-year-old Falling Water Elementary. The $27 million project is currently scheduled for a 2016 opening if the accelerated construction schedule is met, according to Times Free Press.

Additionally, the Hamilton County Department of Education hopes to build another 1,100-student elementary school to replace Alpine Crest, DuPont and Rivermont elementary schools.

While an increase in student population is driving these massive construction projects, the Basic Education Program, the state’s funding formula for public education, is another factor. Per the program, the state requires one teacher for every 20 children in kindergarten through third grade, which can be easier to balance with a larger school, Hamilton County Department of Education Assistant Superintendent Auxiliary Services Gary Waters told the Times Free Press on April 12.

The Times Free Press reported that there can also be disadvantages to the massive buildings, as elementary schools are seen as part of the community. With one centralized location for elementary schools, transportation and parent involvement can become an issue.

Despite potential disadvantages, there are also several advantages to building larger elementary schools. For instance, these schools are often less expensive to staff, operate and maintain. A larger school needs only one principal and one kitchen as opposed to the two principals and two kitchens needed for two smaller schools. East Brainerd Elementary School, designed by locally based TWH Architects Inc., will also feature a geothermal heating and cooling system, which will help cut the school’s utility bills in half.