By Ben Lawson
The new Prospect Elementary School on Burnett Station Road will offer students in kindergarten through 5th grade an opportunity to learn in a modern facility shaped by Blount County’s past.
The need for a new school had been on peoples’ minds for some time, which Ron French learned first hand when he joined the Blount County Commission in 1998.
“I had several people come to me and say they needed a school bad,” he said.
The idea lingered for several years until overcrowding at Porter and Townsend schools made the issue a priority. A budget was approved three years ago to purchase land belonging to the Keeble family, who were very excited to have the building in the same community as the old Prospect Elementary.
Now, as the finishing touches are made just in time for the school year, French is eager to share the facility with the community.
“We couldn’t be any more proud of this school,” he said.
The facility features a state of the art design and includes the latest in educational advances. The building’s reinforced concrete core can function as an emergency shelter in the event of severe weather, including tornadoes, a first for Blount County, and all heating and air equipment is located on a second level mezzanine, which frees up space for students.
The classrooms are all equipped with computers for student use and brand new SMART Boards, which are electronic white boards that allow teachers to instantly access the internet. Another prominent feature is the large gym capable of holding the entire student body, and designed to be closed off from the rest of the school during scheduled events to help with any security issues. Along the same lines, all lower grade classrooms come equipped with bathrooms so students will not be wandering the halls.
The initial population will include 250 to 300 students at first, but the building has been designed for relatively easy expansion if needed, which would increase the number to 650. For all its advances, French was pleased with the cost, which they kept low thanks to federal funds with zero interest. He indicated they saved eight to nine million dollars.
Even as students take in the new technology, the planners made sure to remind them of the past, too. Artist Karen Brackett worked closely with local historian Edward Guffey to design a series of murals along the walls in the Hall of Enthusiasm that depict earlier periods in the Blount settlement known as Prospect, from pre-Civil War to the 1950s, with sites such as the T.H. Ellis Grocery and the original Prospect school.
“My goal was to make it an educational tool,” Bracket said.
An open house will be held Aug. 1 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. to introduce the school to parents and allow them to meet teachers, the county commissioners, school board members and many who designed and built the school. Classes start Aug. 2.
School Celebrates Past, Future
By Ben Lawson