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published on 03/09/2004

Signal Mountain High School Makes Giant Leap

By staff writer

A high school on Signal Mountain just got a little closer to becoming a reality. At the Town Council meeting, Monday, March 8, the Town Hall was packed with concerned citizens who witnessed the Town Council vote yes to a Resolution calling for a Referendum vote to raise taxes within the Town of Signal Mountain. It is not often you see a room full of people giving a standing ovation to a tax increase, but this show of support by the citizens in our community is a testament of faith and commitment to getting a high school on the mountain.

The meeting began with the Pledge of Allegiance led by Boy Scout, Nathaniel Hendrick from Troop 116; Mayor Jim Althaus offered prayer, and the town recorder, Diana Campbell, called roll. In addition to the mayor, also present were Vice-mayor and Councilmember Bill Leonard and Councilmembers Robert White, Rachel Bryant, and Steve Ruffin as well the town attorney, Phil Noblett, and town manager, Hershel Dick.

Resident and co-chairman of the FOSMHS (Friends of Signal Mountain High School) Committee, Glenn Baird, came before the Council. He gave a brief history of the desire for a high school on the mountain noting that the very first meeting where the idea and concept of a high school was discussed occurred in 1959. In 1998, nine original board members organized the FOSMHS who worked diligently with the assistance of residents John Kinnard and Richard Cassavant to get the concept of a high school approved by the Hamilton County Commission in 1999.

Today, according to Mr. Baird, the committee is inspired and motivated by the commitment of both Hamilton County School Board Chairman, Chip Baker and County Commissioner, Richard Cassavant who have fought for the school at the county level, meeting weekly with the Committee for the past two years. Three key issues to remember: (1.) This is the largest community in Hamilton County without a high school; (2.) There is the demand with over 1,370 students at Thrasher/Noland/SMMS; and (3.) A high school fills a black hole, making the community complete.

The political arena in Hamilton County has made it clear that a high school on the mountain is not going to happen unless the people make it happen and pay for it themselves. The FOSMHS have offered to pay for $10,000.000, approximately half of the cost of new high school, with the Town of Walden sharing the cost. There is a narrow window of time, according to the election commission, with 45 days to put it on the ballot. The tax increase expected is 35˘ per $100 assessed value of a home. For example, a home valued at $100.000 will pay an additional $87.50/year in taxes to pay for the high school. A small price to pay, according to Mayor Althaus, stating that, “It is time to step up to the plate.”

If all goes as expected, and the Referendum comes to a vote in May 2004 and passes, not only will a high school be built but along with it will be a new middle school. SMMS is included in Phase II of the Hamilton County upgrade. County mayor, Claude Ramsey suggested the FOSMHS pursue combining the two. Without the Town of Walden’s support, none of this will come about. Walden’s charter forbids them to vote on a tax hike by way of a referendum, however, they are trying to come up with a balanced way to find out how the residents of Walden feel and what they desire in this situation.

In other business at the meeting, the Town Council approved a Resolution to pay for the rehabilitation of the tennis courts behind the Signal Mountain Golf and Country Club. Doing so is part of the renovation of the “Old Playground.” But there was good news concerning the playground. Councilmember Rachel Bryant reported that the town manager, recreation director, and the playground committee met after the last council meeting and reviewed the two bids for the playground equipment once again. In doing so, she noted that the lowest bid was not the best bid, as they did not meet certain requirements. After members of the Playground Committee, Deb Blake and Jock Dunbar, urged the Council to make a decision, Councilmember Steve Ruffin moved that they accept the second lowest bid, as it was the best. The vote was approved on the condition that the town attorney review the bids and agree that the second lowest bid was the best.

Further business that came before the meeting included the approval of a second reading of an Ordinance that amended the employment of auditors; a note of affirmation about the business of the town in that the Thrasher gym broke ground, the new CVS will break ground April 1st; Alexian Village has begun work and therefore dirt is being transported to the parking lot at the Rainbow Falls entrance; and all the dedicated citizens who participated in the got mtn. vision? strategic planning process will be glad to know that the presentation, although postponed from this meeting will be presented at the April 12th Town Council meeting.

The meeting adjourned at 8:25 PM.
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