The Oak Ridge Board of Education will discuss preschool sites during a February 24 work session.
The work session starts at 8 a.m. Friday, February 24, in the conference room of the Robert J. Smallridge School Administration Building at 304 New York Avenue.
Oak Ridge municipal and school officials had previously identified Elm Grove Park off East Tennessee Avenue in east Oak Ridge as a preferred site. It’s a city-owned parcel and the site of a former school, and it’s relatively flat and has city-owned utilities. Also, there aren’t many obstacles that would affect construction, and site borings have already been done, city officials said recently. But a petition drive has been started to object to building the preschool there.
In the meantime, city officials learned that a day care center recently closed at Scarboro Community Center, and they are now also considering adding on to that city-owned building off Carver Avenue. The Scarboro Community Center was built with federal Community Development Block Grant funds, and there is no debt on the building, Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said. It already has a gymnasium, a cafeteria, offices, multi-purpose rooms, and smaller rooms, and there is a playground across the street, city officials said. Additional classrooms and administrative and staff space would be added.
The two sites were discussed at a joint work session between the Oak Ridge Board of Education and Oak Ridge City Council on Thursday, January 26. Conceptual site plans and public safety statistics were presented to the two boards.
Studio Four Design, which presented the conceptual site plans, was asked to come back with more information about the two sites—an “apples to apples” comparison—at the February 27 school board meeting. The BOE could act at that meeting, and the City Council could take action during a March 13 meeting. The additional information could include rough cost estimates.
It wasn’t immediately clear Monday afternoon if Studio Four Design will be at the February 24 work session.
Financing for the preschool project, which would include bonds, could be included in the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. A preschool has been on the city’s wish list for many years.
Plans call for the new preschool to have 20 rooms, and possibly allow for expansion. The classrooms could be about 1,000 square feet each, and there would be boys’ and girls’ bathrooms for every two classrooms, Watson said.
Watson said there are about 180 children at the Oak Ridge Schools Preschool, including Head Start students, and they are spread out across town. The Scarboro Community Center could be somewhat more centrally located than Elm Grove Park, he said.
The use of the preschool by students can’t be co-mingled with other uses. The Elm Grove Park proposal would keep the existing park, including a walking trail, while also keeping the school secure, Watson said.
Asked about public safety, Oak Ridge Fire Department Chief Darryl Kerley said Elm Grove Park has people walking around all the time, and the Scarboro Community Center might be easier to secure. But there is a lot of fire department activity at apartments near the Scarboro Community Center, Kerley said.
Oak Ridge Police Chief Jim Akagi said public safety statistics are roughly equal at Elm Grove Park and Scarboro Community Center, although there are some differences, including in the “hot spots” for peak days and times for calls for service.
Watson said the city could have a budget placeholder of about $10 million for the new preschool in the next budget to be considered by City Council. The final amount could vary, he said. The city doesn’t have the cash on hand and will need a financial plan. With the help of bond adviser Cumberland Securities, financing information could be included in the municipal budget that goes into effect July 1, Watson said.
Other next steps could include preliminary designs and design costs.
The Joint City/Schools Preschool Planning Committee, which presented a preschool report in October 2015, has previously estimated that a new 40,000-square-foot preschool could cost $6.3 million to build, although that rough estimate is now about 1.5 years old.
In October 2015, the committee said there would be an additional $1.2 million in expenses for infrastructure, architects, and other fees, and an in-depth analysis by design and construction firms, pushing the total to $7.5 million.
Oak Ridge Schools started its preschool program in 1965. Federal Head Start funds were added in 1970 to provide for a full school year program.
The Preschool has been relocated four times. Officials say the current home of the Preschool, which is on New York Avenue in central Oak Ridge, was built as a temporary structure about 70 years ago during World War II. That building also houses the School Administration Building.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
See previous story on the two preschool sites here.
See story on the Elm Grove Park petition drive here.
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