(WBIR - Knoxville) Friday morning East Knox County celebrated the long-awaited opening of the brand new Carter Elementary School.
The ceremony itself was very much like the ceremony held Thursday at Knox County's other new elementary school, Northshore Elementary School in the southwest part of Knox County.
Both ribbon-cuttings had lines of dignitaries and students count down from five and emphatically shout in celebration as slices of the fabric hit the ground. Both schools will open to students this Monday.
However, the paths Northshore and Carter took to get to this point are as opposite as their locations in Knox County.
In 2010 the Knox County Board of Education bought a relatively flat piece of land near Pellissippi Parkway where the population has boomed. The school system broke ground on the $16 million school in 2010 and construction rolled along without skipping a beat.
Carter Elementary School sang a very different tune en route to becoming a reality. The song Carter folks were singing also turned out to be the extended version as they searched for overdue answers to their aging school.
"The old school was worn out," said Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett. "Honestly, if it had happened in any other part of the community, it [the new school] would have happened already. The Carter community, they're like most country folks. They keep to themselves and they don't air their dirty laundry."
Discussions about replacing the old Carter Elementary School started in 2001. Previous Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale announced his plans for a new Carter in 2007 by reading a compelling piece of literature. Ragsdale held up a hand-written letter from a first-grader who simply stated, "We need a new school!" and signed her name.
But the promise of a new school quickly stalled as the school board and county commission repeatedly butted heads about which course of action to take. The main crux of the argument was whether the old school full of asbestos and lead paint should be remodeled or if a new school should be built from scratch. The remodeling project would cost a couple of million dollars while a new school required funding of more than $14 million.
"Let's spend money on a healthy building instead on a sick building,"
said former Knox County Commissioner Bud Armstrong in 2010. "We want
most of our kids to ride to downtown in limousines or at least buses and
we are asking our kids at Carter to walk."
When Tim Burchett was elected Knox County Mayor in 2010, he attempted a few tactics to close the $12 million financial gap in order to build Carter a new school. First he called for a rent-to-own plan where a contractor
would build the new Carter Elementary School and lease it to the county. That idea was scrapped as Burchett began selling county property to finance the new school.
In 2011 the board of education and the commission approved Burchett's plan to sell property. Then the contractor named to build the school backed out. The second-place bidder quickly stepped up and officials broke ground on the new Carter Elementary School in November 2011.
Now the parents and students can finally look forward and make educational plans with a new school that is a concrete reality.
"We fought like cats and dogs back and forth over how it should be done. In the end our ultimate goal is taking care of the kids," said Burchett.
"This community [Carter], when you promise a community something like that you need to fulfill that promise."