Air Guard to the rescue

Clean-up day spruces up Fort Craig, lifts spirits

It was a rainy, dreary afternoon on Saturday, Dec. 4. News of Fort Craig School possibly being closed had kept the attitudes dreary all week.

Maybe it was time for the cavalry.

Even better was the appearance at Fort Craig School of Dynamic Learning of 70 members of the 134th Air Refueling Wing at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base. The group had volunteered to come help clean and spruce-up the school, and neither weather or an uncertain future would keep them away.

“They were here from noon until 3:30,” said principal Ramona Best. “They brought us some sunshine when they came.”

The principal said the school has a connection to the base because librarian Betsy Cox’s son, Charlie Cose, is in the Air National Guard. They were looking for an annual service project to volunteer some time in the community and wanted to help out at the school, Best said.

The principal said when the Air Guard personnel arrived, it was a spectacle.

“It was unbelievable. They first told me there would be 50, and, by time we finished, there were about 70. They came on buses, marched up the sidewalk, marched through the front doors and stood in formation in the gym,” she said.

Best said she gave the project list to the commanders who in turn issued orders to the personnel. Parents on hand were project managers and the military personnel worked with the parents. “They did everything from painting to trimming around the front to cleaning up leaves -- which were heavy and wet,” Best said. “Our maintenance department helped by providing rakes. When you have 70 hands, you need implements to go with them. Our parents also brought in rakes and shovels.”

The principal said the personnel painted the school clinic, got started painting the front office area, painted a guest restroom and painted cabinets in classrooms.

Parent Chris Legaux had been building a large table to seat 20 students in one of the school’s Discovery areas so that it could be used as outdoor classroom. “That table weights 200 or 300 pounds, and he needed the guys to help,” Best said. “They worked in the dirt, mud and rain and set that table.”

Best said they didn’t get completely finished with everything, but it was as very good start. “I thought it was an awesome feeling to know they were taking time out to do things we needed someone to do,” she said. “They power-washed the sidewalks and picnic tables. It still gives me cold chills when I think about them being in the school.”

Talk of closing Fort Craig School to offset the cost of opening the new Coulter Grove Intermediate School began officially on Dec. 2 when the school system presented the idea during a joint informational session of the Maryville City School Board and Maryville City Council.

The combined work session was for the school system to explain the proposal for dealing with overcrowding at Maryville High School by reconfiguring the grades. The ninth grade would be moved to the middle school with the eighth grade. Maryville Intermediate and the new Coulter Grove Intermediate schools would have either fourth through seventh grades or one would have fourth and fifth and the other sixth and seventh. The elementary schools would all be kindergarten through third grades.

On Dec. 13, the Maryville City School voted to reconfigure the grades and move the ninth grade to the middle school with the eighth grade. The seventh grade would move to intermediate level. School board members are to decide in late January or early February whether there will be two 4-7 intermediate schools or one 4-5 school and one 6-7 school. The reconfigurations should take effect during the 2012-13 academic year.

Schools Director Stephanie Thompson said that in either January or February, the city council will decide what level of funding they’ll be able to give for the new school. Closing Fort Craig school was then discussed as a way to save money and still get Coulter Grove school opened.

In discussing the idea, Maryville City Manager Greg McClain said that if Fort Craig is closed, it would taken an additional $800,000 or 11 cents on the tax rate, to fund the school budget and open Coulter Grove. If Fort Craig is left open and Coulter Grove is opened, it would require $1.8 million or 24 cents on the tax rate. The tax rate now is 2.17 per $100 of assessed value, he said.

Once the city council decides the level of funding, the school board will make the decision on what schools will remain open and what will close. That decision will likely be discussed and possibly made in January or February.

There is also a Facebook page that says updated information will be posted about any possible votes. It is CitizensagainstclosingFtCraigschool on Facebook.

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