ABES: New school is worth the wait

Sandra ClarkHalls, Our Town Youth

We got a peek inside the new Adrian Burnett Elementary School on Aug. 2, and there’s only one word: Wow!


Patti Bounds, District 7 school board member, asked Doug Shover, facilities director for Knox County Schools, to arrange the visit. A bonus was Merit Construction’s working foreman Mike McCloud, a three-generation Halls resident who is super proud of this building. He brought us hard hats and stayed.

Let’s start at the front door. Security is the watchword as visitors must pass through a double-entry set of doors, both controlled by school personnel. All exterior doors will be locked. Visibility is high with glass doors and windows in the entrance and school office. The security resource officer (SRO) has a workspace just off the office, with doors into the hall or into the office. If visitors have business inside the school, they will pass by the SRO before getting to the main hallway.

The principal’s office and conference room are behind the secretaries. Visitors coming to meet the principal never step into the main school building. The full administrative suite contains smaller offices for assistant principals and itinerant professionals such as social workers, speech therapists, etc.

The new school is not ready for occupancy. McCloud attributes that to supply chain and workforce issues plus the need to level and fill the site before starting construction. (Scott Jenkins is the superintendent of this job. The design was by Johnson Architect.)

Teachers and students will start school in the old building, but Bounds said KCS hopes to move to the new school over fall break. Once the new building is occupied, the old building will be torn down and replaced with a parking lot.

Patience is the next watchword, though, as the school entrance will be off Felty Drive while the teardown and asphalt work are underway. Finally, workers will clear out and the staff and kids of Adrian Burnett will take ownership of their new building.

“They’ve waited so long, I’m happy for them,” said Bounds.

Quick facts:

  • The school has just under 85,000 square feet
  • Capacity is 800 for a student body of just over 500
  • Three academic wings will house grades PreK-K-1, 2-3 and 4-5
  • Each wing is self-contained with restrooms in the hall and running water in each classroom
  • The school has an 8,500 square foot tornado shelter (basically the back half of the 4-5 wing). It can shelter everyone in the building for two hours with generator-powered heat and cooling and potable water.
  • Cafeteria and kitchen can seat and serve the current enrollment in two shifts, Shover estimated. “You won’t have kids starting lunch at 10:30 and others still eating at 1:30.”
  • The gym includes a full-sized basketball court and a stage. The music room is behind the stage so children can enter and exit without disrupting the audience. Shover estimates up to 800 adults can be seated in fold-up chairs on the gym floor.
  • The media center has natural light and the wiring to power a bunch of computers. There are workrooms galore and bookshelves will be installed.
  • Walls are painted light gray, but the color comes in the floor tile, said McCloud. “Blues, green and darker grays.”
  • Teachers will control their classroom temperature within four degrees up or down from the set temperature. Each classroom has its own HVAC unit.
  • Exterior canopies will be installed at both the front and rear entrances, Shover said, “with a touch of red.”

Remember, the current school was built in the early 1970s as a “temporary” solution to overcrowding at Halls Elementary. A former principal once said “the whole school is a portable.”

It is the last school standing that was designed around “the open classroom” concept. Basically, the school lacked interior walls so teachers could “team teach.” And the cafeteria, doubling as the auditorium, backed up to the library with little noise abatement. These kids have had no gym for 50 years. Adrian Burnett was built with a carpeted “playroom” with low ceilings and limited opportunities to play.

Promises, promises, elections, elections, delay, delay.

Patti Bounds, who is not seeking re-election this year, was elected 8 years ago with a commitment to get the Adrian Burnett School project done. She will be out of office before the ribbon-cutting, but someplace in this building somebody should write on the wall, “Thank you, Patti Bounds. You got it done.”

(Enjoy this photo feature of some of the rooms.)

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today.

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