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Johnson City leaders, school officials tour Towne Acres, Liberty Bell and Indian Trail

Zach Vance • Updated Apr 12, 2018 at 10:13 PM

Johnson City Schools Superintendent Dr. Steve Barnett led city officials and Board of Education members on a tour of four Johnson City schools to visually identify improvements and upgrades in preparation to transforming its intermediate school into a second middle school. 

“These are big picture, important choices that we’re being asked to make that don’t just affect students today, but they affect students for a generation,” City Commissioner Joe Wise said. “For us to fully understand the variables that are part of those questions, it’s critical that we set eyes on these facilities to better understand what it is we’re getting ready to embark on.” 

The first leg of the tour began at Towne Acres Elementary School, where school and city leaders met with Principal Dr. Josh Simmons and discussed various infrastructural needs, such as enhancements to the school’s sewer system and general ways to enhance student safety. Simmons estimated the core building of Towne Acres is about 50 years old. 

“We looked at some of the wonderful things, such as the setup of the building, but then also talked about some potential challenges, things that could be dealing with the age of the building, the layout of the building and things of that nature,” Simmons said. 

The next stop was Topper Academy, where officials briefly analyzed the alternative school’s aging gymnasium and how it might be renovated or rebuilt in the future. 

From there, Barnett guided the faction to Liberty Bell Middle School to personally explain where the new gymnasium and cafeteria are scheduled to be built. 

In December, Barnett told the school system’s Facilities Committee that the entire Liberty Bell project would consist of 39,000-square feet and would cost roughly $9 million. The latest design, while it might have been modified since, entailed additional classrooms, restrooms, a larger gym with a 1,300-student seating capacity and a large cafeteria furnished with full kitchen equipment.

Barnett’s final stop was Indian Trail Intermediate School, which officials hope to transform from an intermediate school to a middle school. 

Barnett guided the group to Indian Trail’s locker rooms and science labs, which will likely need improvements to equal those at Liberty Bell. 

“As we continue to discuss and move toward a two middle-school concept, what do we need to do to make sure these two schools are comparable? Are there things we need to do with the science labs, athletic facilities, especially at Indian Trail, to make sure that these two schools are comparable?” Barnett said. 

“In talking with the architect, what do we really need to do that meets the needs of our fifth- through eighth-grade curriculum here (at Indian Trail) and at Liberty Bell? And also, what will meet the needs of our athletic facilities at Indian Trail once we compare them to what’s going to be in place at Liberty Bell? (They’re) very similar, but right now the biggest need we see at Indian Trail is the need to improve the athletic changing facilities.” 

The idea, Barnett said, is to add more space at Indian Trail and utilize the space at Liberty Bell to make the student cohorts similar at each middle school. 

Barnett said construction contractors are expected to bid on the Liberty Bell gym and cafeteria project within the coming months. 

“Then we’ll have to look at funding and prioritize what our needs will be,” Barnett said. 

The Board of Education has been studying a two middle-school concept for quite some time. The board has previously said it would like to have both schools functioning as middle schools by the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school year. 

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