Hamilton County Commissioners on Wednesday approved $135,500 to demolish the former Charles A. Bell elementary school, a dilapidated building that has stood empty for more than a decade, years after the 1996 merger of Chattanooga Public and Hamilton County schools.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Commissioner Warren Mackey said. “That building has sat there, falling apart, being a bane on this community. It is overgrown with weeds where is sits, isolated yet close to the Villages (new public housing in Alton Park). It is a haven to grab someone and hurt them.”
The school was closed by former city school superintendent Harry Reynolds as part of a cost cutting measure when he took over Chattanooga Public Schools in the late 1970s. The building has sat empty, with grass and trees overgrowing the grounds and the buildings, which are dilapidated, with windows broken out and graffiti all over the brick walls.
Mackey said the county has tried to get the city involved in helping with the project, including rehabbing the property for future use for football/soccer fields.
City Councilman Manny Rico, who represents that district, said the city gave the property to the county because they could get federal grants to pay for demolition.
“Then they are supposed to turn it back over to us so we can take care of it,” Rico said. “We are going make some kind of park or recreational area.”
Dr. Eleanora Woods, executive director of the Alton Park Development Corp., and a local dentist, said she is supportive of any project that will make recreational space available. The Alton Park neighborhood is one of a few neighborhoods that has no space for the children in the area.
“That area is awful,” Woods said. “The grass is growing up, rodents are running rampant and snakes are all over it. We want to get codes enforcement to come out and either do the work or get the owners to do the work that needs to be done.”
The federal government has spent millions of dollars in the Alton Park area on Project Hope VI, tearing down dilapidated and decaying public housing, replacing them with new public housing developments with single family homes and duplexes and multi-family dwellings.
The old elementary school sits nearby the Villages at McCallie, where children ride bikes on residential roads and residents mow and tend to the well landscaped homes.
A call to TriStar Environmental Inc., for a start date was not returned Wednesday.