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School Building Authority OKs funds for Roane County project

SPENCER — Over $13 million was approved for the construction of a new building for Spencer Middle School by the School Building Authority on Monday morning.

Roane County was among the seven counties with approved funding. Twenty-nine counties submitted requests for funding.

Richard Duncan, Roane County superintendent, said the new building is much needed as the county has not had a new school building since the construction of the high school in 1993.

The other middle schools in the county will remain open. Spencer Middle School is getting a new building.

“It’s amazing what kids and teachers can do with modern and safe facilities,” he said.

Last November, Roane County voters put their faith in the futures of students by passing the bond levy which Duncan believes helped gain the approval from the SBA.

“I think it really says a lot to the commitment that the Roane County voters made when they passed the bond levy,” he said. “If the local folks are willing to put down the commitment and the state is going to award that. I think that’s a really important message. This was our third try to get this particular funding, we had to stick with it.”

The standing Spencer Middle School is the former site of Roane County High School and Duncan said it’s not an ideal location for the building as it is in the city and doesn’t have adequate space.

In past years, the school was in a prime location so people could walk but Duncan said with updated buildings, the city location isn’t conducive.

“It’s very difficult to operate the school in that dense of an area. (It has) no bus loop and It’s hard to secure the area,” he said. “There is an industrial plant nearby (which) causes some air quality issues inside and outside. It doesn’t have the air flow and the health and safety features we want to see in the new building.”

The site of the new school will be next to the high school but the schools will remain separate with the exception of a shared kitchen and loading areas.

Project planning will take place for the next four to six months and construction is expected to start this fall; the new school is hoped to be finished at the start of the 2023-2024 school year.

A few of the goals for the new school include more natural lighting and technical training facilities for middle school students.

“One of the things we want to do is because we’re on this beautiful campus, (we want) to have some outdoor classroom spaces and natural light in the building. We can get a lot of natural light in the building and bring that positive, natural atmosphere,” Duncan said.

By offering middle school students early access to technical programs, Duncan believes it will help with graduation rates.

“We have a wonderful technical center in Jackson County but we want middle school kids to have a taste of what to expect in high school. (By) engaging middle school students, (it will) decrease dropout rates and increase graduation rates,” he said.

Candice Black can be reached at cblack@newsandsentinel.com.

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