Barnett anticipates Liberty Bell gym, cafeteria construction beginning sometime in summer

Zach Vance • Dec 6, 2017 at 10:52 PM

Johnson City Schools Superintendent Steve Barnett told the city’s Facilities Committee on Wednesday that he expects construction to begin on the Liberty Bell cafeteria and gymnasium project sometime in June. 

Spread across the table for committee members to view was a large architectural drawing that showed the layout of the roughly 39,000-square-foot project, which has been estimated to cost around $9 million. 

The latest design entails an additional classroom, restrooms, an expanded gym ready to seat over 1,300 students and a large cafeteria furnished with a full array of kitchen equipment. 

“Breaking ground in June is the plan at this point,” Barnett said. “Right now, (the architects) are basically going through all those details of plumbing, electrical and every drain dyke. All those things that are not on (the drawing). He said that’s the part that will take awhile.” 

After 10 years of waiting on other school priorities, the city finally contracted with Shaw & Shanks over the spring to begin designing the new additions for Liberty Bell Middle School.  

Since the city has to wait on those plans to be finalized before bidding can begin on the project’s construction, City Manager Pete Peterson said he wouldn’t be surprised if the groundbreaking occurred sometime around Labor Day. 

“If you would have said Labor Day, I wouldn’t have been surprised at all,” Peterson said. “To go from schematic to groundbreaking in six months is pretty aggressive.” 

Peterson also mentioned a “funding shortfall” that will need to be resolved before the project begins, which he estimated to be around six digits. Johnson City Finance Director Janet Jennings said $8.5 million is currently in the bank allocated for the project, and that amount may increase a little, but likely not enough to make up the difference. 

For years, Liberty Bell students have been reliant on walking to Freedom Hall to use its gymnasium and cafeteria, which has raised some safety concerns. Officials have also been concerned the walk between Freedom Hall and Liberty Bell could keep some students from going to eat breakfast in the mornings. 

In addition to the Liberty Bell addition, the Facilities Committee is also working to finalize a request for architectural qualifications on 10 future school-related projects. 

Out of those 10, the committee determined it will prioritize the finishing of a comparability study of Indian Trail and Liberty Bell. The group also wants architects to look at remodeling both schools’ science labs, building a new playground for Liberty Bell and new or remodeled athletic facilities for Indian Trail. 

Those projects would be completed in anticipation of both schools being converted into middle schools, serving fifth through eighth grades. Barnett has said he hopes to have an outline of the plan completed by 2020. 

Anyone wanting to voice their opinion on the middle school proposal can take an online survey by visiting https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Twomiddleschools.

The other eight potential projects include:

• Eight additional classrooms at Lake Ridge Elementary

• Eight additional classrooms at Woodland Elementary.

• Four additional classrooms at South Side Elementary.

• A possible remodel and feasibility study of Topper Academy.

• Remodeling Science Hill’s lab space.

• Remodel or replace Town Acres.

• A possible remodel or feasibility study of the central office building.

• A feasibility study of the former First Church of Christ, Scientist, which the city recently purchased beside Science Hill.

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