Leaders with Alcoa City Schools are making a final push for the community to support a higher sales tax to fund a new high school. Early voting is already underway ahead of the August 2 Election Day.
"We've really had to sell this to our community," said Dr. Brian Bell, director of Alcoa City Schools. "We're asking for a half-cent increase on the dollar for sales tax in the city. If you look at it, a half-cent increase on a 100 dollar grocery bill is another 50 cents."
Bell said the sales job for more sales tax has been easier than the traditional method of raising property taxes.
"This method of raising money would allow us to generate money for our schools from anyone who spends money in the city. That can be a sizable amount of people from outside Alcoa when you consider the airport and the car dealerships in the city. There is a cap on those big ticket items where nobody would ever pay more than $1,600 in sales tax."
Bell and supporters of the plan to build a new $29 million high school have tried to sway voters with phone calls, fliers, and by canvassing the community with campaign signs. Thus far there have not been any signs of an organized opposition to the plan.
"There are always going to be people who do not want to raise taxes, and we understand that," said Bell. "Our job is to get folks to understand this is part of a larger plan for the entire city and not just about a new high school."
Designers have also tried to appeal to voters by keeping a strong visual connection to the past.
"If you look at the original high school built in 1939 and compare it to the new high school, you'll see a lot of similarities in the archways. We tried to think of how the people who designed the original school would make the new school look," said Bell. "We've also incorporated a large aluminum dome that clearly pays homage to the Aluminum Company of America and its role in our community."
The campaign signs in support of more sales tax have appeared in front of many community businesses. That includes Big Lanes Pizza and More, a small pizza parlor that opened less than a year ago. The owner, Lane Gerhardt, has been a longtime supporter of Alcoa High School and believes charging customers an additional percentage of sales tax will benefit the community.
"I think it would be great for the City of Alcoa overall. When people relocate or businesses relocate, they want to know what kinds of schools are available for their kids. That has always been a strength of Alcoa is we have great schools that attract great teachers and produce great students," said Gerhardt.
Gerhardt said he does not believe the increased sales tax will impact his business.
"When people buy a pizza, they don't get overly concerned about what percentage was sales tax," said Gerhardt. "A fact of life in Tennessee is sales tax is the horse, no matter where you go in the state. It could be a problem if you constantly raised sales tax, but I cannot think of that happening very often. Doing this for a new high school that will also improve the middle and elementary schools is a case where it [a sales tax increase] makes sense to me."
"Right now Alcoa schools are overcrowded. The facility we have for our high school is not appropriate to what we need to do in high school today," said Bell. "I'm cautiously optimistic the community will support this."
If the new sales tax referendum passes, Bell said crews could potentially break ground on the new school by November of this year. The plan calls for the new high school to open in January 2015.
A new high school would reshuffle students throughout Alcoa. Once the new school opens, crews would spend six months renovating the existing high school building and installing upgrades. Alcoa Middle School would then relocate to the current high school building in summer of 2015. The elementary school would then move some of its grades to the existing middle school building.
"Based on growth estimates, this plan will free up enough space that we should not have to do any additional construction until 2025," said Bell.