COVID-19 has stalled a plan to consolidate several McMinn County schools, but plans are still in place to move forward with the idea in the near future.
MCS Director of Schools Lee Parkison said that there are scheduled meetings at this point between himself, McMinn County Mayor John Gentry, the school board and Sam Moser of Mainstreet Studio Architects to begin the discussions surrounding consolidation once again.
“There are no hard plans right now,” Parkison said, adding that he hopes to begin moving forward on the conversations “hopefully in the next month or so. The time has come when we need to start again.”
He said there are still some concerns around the consolidation plans, including whether there should be middle schools, how community schools would go away in the plan and whether to rebuild or remodel what’s already there.
“The things I just mentioned will determine where we go,” he explained.
There will also be cost questions, since the previous plans were drawn up prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
“The figures are from well over a year ago,” Parkison said. “I think we will come together and make decisions on the direction we need to go.”
This conversation for the county schools comes on the heels of Athens City Schools and the Athens City Council agreeing on a plan to consolidate the four elementary schools into one structure at the current site of City Park Elementary School. The single building will now house two elementary schools — Athens City Primary School (Pre-K through second grade) and Athens City Intermediate School (third through fifth grade).
Parkison commended the city council and ACS board for coming to a consensus on the consolidation plan.
At the time that the initial county schools consolidation idea was brought up, multiple phases were proposed to make it happen.
When the proposal was laid out, the Phase I portion of the plan was replacing Riceville Elementary School with a new middle school that would be fed by Calhoun Elementary and Rogers Creek Elementary.
The phase would also include upgrades and renovations to Calhoun and Rogers Creek.
“The focus is on getting something going,” Parkison said at a school board work session when this was first brought up. “The cost (of this group of changes) would be the least cost we’ll have. This is doable.”
The Riceville portion of the phase would include a 90,000 square foot building that could accommodate 400-500 students and possibly more.
Upgrades to the Rogers Creek structure, in the plan, would include a new secure entry into what is now the teacher’s area, an expansion of the cafeteria and the possibility of a new media center.
The renovations in Calhoun would include a new gym area and an expanded cafeteria.
The gym would be constructed on the opposite side of the building as it currently stands, which would enclose the center area of the school and make for a secure area for students to be outside.
It would also be connected to the rest of the school with new hallways, eliminating the current need for students to walk outside when heading from one area to another, which presents security concerns.
In order to connect the building where the gym would move from, the plan proposes adding five regular size classrooms and one smaller one.