The Knoxville School Board approved a proposal for a new middle school building, as well as renovations to Northstar Elementary, during their regular meeting on Sept. 23.

The proposal was presented to the board as part of a five-year vision for the school district. It was created by the Facilities Task Force, a group composed of 20 members of the community, including business owners, city officials, parents and school officials. Members of the Facilities Task Force were appointed by the school board and school administration.

After a facilities assessment was conducted by Estes Construction, the Facilities Task Force was provided with a list of potential projects that could take place in the district.

In order to determine which projects best met the district’s needs, the task force created a priority matrix to help determine what projects were the most important and would have the most impact. Projects were measured against the following five criteria to determine priority rankings:

Improve learning environments to a 21st century environment

Impact the greatest number of students

Have a long-term impact

Increase the efficiency of the school system

Work as a collaborative community project

“One of the things we talked about as a committee was looking into the future, doing things not just for tomorrow, but years to come” said Chris Nichols, who presented the proposal on behalf of the Facilities Task Force.

Using the priority matrix, the task force created a three phase plan that would be implemented over the next three to five years.

Phase one includes building a new middle school, as well as renovating Northstar Elementary and adding a gym. This phase, which would be funded through a General Obligation Bond, would cost approximately $26 million.

Nichols said these are still preliminary numbers, and there is still a lot of work to be done.

“We’re asking a lot,” said Nichols, “but we’re not asking too much.”

Nichols said the current middle school building is nearly 70 years old and that it does not meet what the task force considers a 21st century learning environment. He added that the building makes it a tough place to keep talent, in terms of teachers, saying that Knoxville students deserve the ultimate teachers.

“The fact is, you can attract students and you can keep students, you can attract talent in terms of teachers, you can keep teachers … but schools are the backbone of that,” Nichols said.

The new middle school building would cost approximately $18 million.

The other aspect of phase one includes renovations and a gym addition to Northstar Elementary. The renovations would include a new, secure entrance into the school, a building-wide HVAC system, new windows, lighting and flooring, remodeling the kitchen, updates to meet compliancies with the American Disabilities Act and fire codes, and an addition dedicated to a gymnasium.

Currently, Northstar has the smallest square footage per student of all the buildings in the district. The cafeteria doubles as the gymnasium, which would no longer be an issue with the addition of a gymnasium.

The renovations to Northstar would cost approximately $8 million.

The Facilities Task Force set the goal of having the new middle school and newly renovated Northstar ready for use by 2022. They anticipate a GO Bond Vote to take place on March 3, 2020.

With the board’s approval of phase one, the proposal was accepted as a road map for the facilities projects. The approved proposal allowed the project to start moving forward, and for the committee to engage with an architect for the building and renovation projects.

Phases two and three of the proposal will be approved by the school board at a later date. Phase two will include building four classrooms that will serve as tornado safe shelters at West Elementary. Phase three involves renovations to the high school, as well as updating athletic facilities.

Nichols emphasized that while the later phases are important, they are not the task force’s top priority.

“We were more focused about percentage of students impacted,” Nichols said. “Quite frankly, education fell before everything else.”

Following the approval of the phase one, the board approved a contract with CMBA Architects, who will assist over the next five months with phase one.

The contract with CMBA Architects will go through the March 3 bond vote. If the GO Bond passes with a 60 percent majority, then CMBA Architects will be contracted again for the rest of the project.

Moving forward, all decisions relating to these projects will requite board approval.

Emma Skahill can be reached at eskahill@journalexpress.net or by calling the newsroom at 641-842-2155.

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