Parents of students at Adrian Burnett Elementary School, 4521 Brown Gap Road, have been asking Knox County for a new building for the last quarter century. Finally, it looks as though their wish will be granted.
Mayor Glenn Jacobs has announced that he will recommend that the county build three new schools. Adrian Burnett is on the list.
The parents and boosters are bound to be pleased by this announcement, but they shouldn’t be blamed if they take a wait-and-see attitude. They’ve been on that list before. Meanwhile they are coping with having no real gym, inadequate heating and cooling, 24 bathroom stalls for 600 students and 14 temporary classrooms.
Soon after school board member Patti Bounds was elected to represent the Seventh District in 2014, then-superintendent James McIntyre offered her a fix for Adrian Burnett. She was not impressed.
“There’s nowhere to park, nowhere to hold an assembly – they use Beaver Dam Baptist Church – and Jim was proposing a $13 million renovation. I told him that as a taxpayer I would be livid if you put $13 million into this dump. Their plan would have disrupted education for four years, and the planned renovation wouldn’t increase the parking or the play area.”
Regina Brockman-Turner is one of Bounds’ constituents and has put two daughters through Adrian Burnett. She feels very strongly about this topic.
Fifteen years ago she was walking into the school to attend her daughter Richelle’s kindergarten Christmas show. Just ahead of her was a recently retired fire marshal who was the grandfather of one of Richelle’s classmates. They got to talking, and at first he was very complimentary of the school. Then he started looking around.
“He looks at the fire code sticker, he knocks on the wall and begins to ask questions. This is what I learned from that night: The building is made of sticks and paper. Flames could engulf the school in less than eight minutes, and anytime we held an event, no matter the size, we were over recommended capacity. I immediately joined the PTSO and with Jennie Poveda actively began seeking a new building for our students. That was 15 years ago!”
The following year, performances started being held at Beaver Dam Baptist Church due to the lack of space at Adrian Burnett. When Richelle was a fourth-grader, a tornado touched down a few miles away.
“The fire alarm goes off in the school and the principal had to decide, do I keep them inside (the alarm being triggered was nothing new) and hope it’s not real or send them outside with a tornado warning going on? She did the right thing and sent them outside because, remember, it wouldn’t take long for the school to burn down.”
Later she learned that the wind had triggered the alarm.
“This is when I realized that building was not the safest place to be in those weather conditions.”
Conditions were even worse when her younger daughter, Ryleigh, started school. There were weeds growing inside her first-grade classroom (this still happens, Brockman-Turner said). “We knew it was because the walls were not permanent, and when they began to separate, the county just put on siding so you couldn’t see outside.”
Wasps and bees became increasingly problematic the following year, probably attracted by the warmth from the lights and by the flimsy walls that provided great building material for nests and hives.
“This is also the year we had an influx of mice and other critters (including roaches) inside or under the portables. When a mouse runs through a class I promise that’s all you hear about from the students for weeks. Especially when the teacher is scared to death and is on the top of the desk,” Brockman-Turner said.
When Ryleigh was in the third grade, a mentally unstable man shot a neighborhood dog and was running loose with a gun, terrifying her mother:
“Here is the most frightening thing: It didn’t matter that the protocols were followed that day. It didn’t matter that these children were protected by teachers who would have given their lives for those kids, and it didn’t matter that the crazy man was caught and arrested. Why? Because, if that crazy man had decided to shoot at the building there was nothing to stop that bullet from entering the building. Remember, it’s temporary. It’s made of sheet rock, wood, plaster and some aluminum siding.”
Mold and dust in the building aggravated Ryleigh’s allergies when she was in the fourth grade.
“Due to the age and the contents that the school is made of, there are a lot more issues with mold and dust. In the classroom there was an air vent that leaked on and off since my older child was there. The solution was to continue to paint over the mold every year. If you pressed a finger to that area (2 foot by 1 foot) it was spongy. No wonder our friends with asthma had an increase in attacks when at school.”
The following year was hard, too.
“That was when Ryleigh learned that the students at this school really didn’t matter to anyone,” said Brockman-Turner. “For the fourth time in over 15 years, we were bumped from the list again. Not only that, McIntyre deemed the school structurally sound and sold off the property on Tazewell Pike that had been paid for a decade before. He said the land was not suited for building and sold it for pennies. Funny thing is, Fairview Baptist bought it and is going to build a multimillion-dollar church and facilities there.”
Mildred Doyle was superintendent of Knox County Schools when Adrian Burnett opened in fall 1976. She’d built it on the cheap to serve as a safety valve to relieve overcrowding at Halls and Brickey, and it was the last wooden schoolhouse Knox County ever built. It accommodated 500 students with a “modified” open-space floor plan and had classrooms for first- and second-graders and “teaching stations” for the upper grades.
They were kicked to the curb again in 2015 when the school board and former Mayor Tim Burchett struck a deal to build new middle schools in Gibbs and Hardin Valley and impose a moratorium on new building for four years.
Now that they’re back on the list, Bounds is determined to make it happen. Parents like Brockman-Turner can only wait and watch.