Note: This story was last updated at 8 p.m.
The Oak Ridge Board of Education and City Council will tour a building on Mitchell Road on Thursday afternoon that could be a new home for the Preschool.
Built as a temporary building, the current Preschool on New York Avenue is 70 years old and in need of repairs.
A new School Administration Building and Preschool has been on the city’s wish list for years. But now education officials say the Preschool has to be renovated or vacated by next year in order for the school system to continue to receive federal Head Start funding.
They’ve recommended a long-term lease for the Preschool, with an option to purchase. Oak Ridge Schools has also recommended buying the Chamber of Commerce building for a new School Administration Building and remodeling the G Building at Oak Ridge High School to accommodate administration support services, a “better defined” Alternative School program, and the ROTC program.
Today’s tour of a possible home for the Preschool starts at 4:30 p.m. at 161 Mitchell Road, a building once occupied by Wackenhut, which later became WSI Oak Ridge, a former federal security contractor. Mitchell Road is in south-central Oak Ridge, in an industrial and commercial district between Lafayette Drive and South Illinois Avenue.
That building on 2.12 acres is owned by Richard and Shirley Chinn, according to state records. New Oak Ridge City Council member Rick Chinn recused himself from the Preschool discussion during a recent joint City Council and Board of Education work session because he said a family member owns a building being considered.
School officials estimate it could cost $570,000 per year to lease a new facility, with an annual increase of 2 percent over 20 years.
It could cost $880,000 to buy the Chamber of Commerce building and $350,000 to remodel the G Building at ORHS. The Chamber building is located next to the high school and would be large enough for most School Administration and BOE functions, school officials said. They said Chamber leaders have been open to the proposal, and some talks are under way.
The current Preschool and School Administration Building on New York Avenue could be sold to help offset the cost of buying and remodeling the Chamber building and G building. The current Preschool and School Administration Building has an estimated property value of $410,000 to $710,000.
Oak Ridge Schools has posted a request for proposals to lease classroom space (see Announcement of Bids). Preliminary estimated lease costs were due by December 1, and proposals are due by 2 p.m. January 8. School officials would like to stay within three miles of the current building.
A recommendation will be made to the Board of Education on January 26, and City Council could consider it on February 9. Then, a contract with the landlord for construction could be signed and approved by March 1, with the building ready to be occupied between July 1 and July 30, 2015, school officials said.
School officials said an annual inspection by Anderson County Head Start found chipping lead-based paint on an outer wall. Management of lead-based paint in school facilities that serve children six years old or younger is regulated under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule, school officials said in a recent presentation at a joint work session of the City Council and School Board.
“Without a permanent corrective measure in place by the start of next school year, the Head Start program may lose funding and be discontinued in the Oak Ridge School system,” the presentation said. “Options for this program’s survival are limited.”
School officials had prepared four options:
- build a new facility at a separate site,
- lease a separate existing facility,
- renovate the current building, or
- divide up the preschool among the elementary schools.
The first option, building a new facility, was judged to be highly unlikely because of a lack of funding. It was estimated to cost about $11 million for construction and temporary accommodations. It could be built on land available at the Jack Armstrong Stadium and Blankenship Field site in central Oak Ridge.
The second option, leasing, would require renovations in order to meet Head Start requirements.
Renovating the current facility, the third option, would require extensive measures and major logistical planning to deal with construction on the site, education officials said. That option was estimated to cost $7.5 million.
The school system said it has spent more than $800,000 since 2007 to keep the current building operating.
The final option, dividing the preschool among the elementary schools, has been judged “not viable” and is being dropped. School officials said classroom space for the Preschool could not be guaranteed due to the fluctuation in enrollment.
See the Oak Ridge Schools’ presentation on the Preschool and School Administration Building here: Future Plans for Oak Ridge Preschool and SAB.
Here is more background information from city and school officials in response to questions by City Council member Trina Baughn:
- December 16 e-mail from Oak Ridge Schools Superintendent Bruce Borchers, which forwards information from Maintenance Supervisor Allen Thacker:
Karen Gagliano and I visited with Girls Inc. at their request to look over the possible use of the old Army Reserve building as a possible location for the preschool. Their hope was that the city could renovate the building and the renovation cost would be the cost of the lease, with Girls Inc. to retain ownership and have access to use the building during the off hours. Based on the size and condition of the building and available land around the building, this site would require all structures except for the gym to be demolished and then rebuilt to meet Head Start requirements. This would require about 90 percent or more of the structure to be built as new construction with no option for ownership.
I also made contact with the property representative for the old Food Lion building and informed them of what we were looking for and that the RFP would be released the following week. I have not received any inquiries from the property owner, but the RFP is available online, and I gave them the information on where to locate it.
My staff and I have also reviewed additional options from the city such as, moving other programs in the district into the old Recording for the Blind building and repurposing the vacated space. We found that the “Recording” building was too small to accommodate our programs (less than 5,000 square feet).
We also looked at the Civic Center for the preschool, but the space was limited for our needs and security would be impossible to manage without displacement of the some of the major Civic Center programs.
We are continually looking for options, but at the same time, we must also spend our efforts refining and planning for the options that are known, has the capacity to meet our needs, and that are being made available.
- Another December 16 e-mail from Bruce Borchers, again forwarding information from Thacker:
We advertised the RFP over the span of two weeks in The Oak Ridger. The Oak Ridger carries this type of ad only on certain days, so it would have appeared on November 20th, 25th, and 27th.
We spoke to Rick Chinn several weeks prior to the election to get an idea of available properties in the area and how a lease would work since it was the first time the district had looked into that option.
We sent our RFP to the school attorney for him to hammer out the legal details before it was advertised. A copy of the RFP was requested and provided to Maribel Koella of NAI Knoxville on the 20th, and a tour of the prospected building was given to Karen Gagliano, Charlsey Cofer, Kim Cox, and myself on the same day.
No other property agents have expressed an interest, even though the RFP has been advertised, and has been a topic of public concern in both the paper and televised meetings with the School Board and City Council. I am listed as the point of contact for the district on this lease.
- Part of a December 16 e-mail from Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson
Trina: I would also add that Pat Fallon and I also investigated the possibilities of space at the Civic Center, which turned out to be too small.
Mark Watson, City Manager
Baughn also asked Oak Ridge City Attorney Ken Krushenski to confirm that Council members who participated in the Thursday tour would not be violating any codes, laws, or ethical standards since the RFP process hasn’t closed yet.
Krushenski said they would not be.
More information will be added as it becomes available.