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New road for Norris Middle facing opposition

Architect Charles M Grant (right) discusses plans for the expansion of Norris Middle School with members of the Norris Planning Commission on Monday, Aug. 1, as Dr. Tim Parrott (seated left), Anderson County director of schools, looks on. (photo:G. Chambers Williams III )
Will there be an extension of the road behind Norris Middle School to accommodate traffic after the planned $4 million expansion of the school?

Maybe, or maybe not, according to new information given to The Courier News on Monday.

The Anderson County School District told the Norris Planning Commission last week that it plans to spend $400,000 to extend the road behind the school to allow traffic to flow out onto West Norris Road when school kids are dropped off and picked up.

That’s above the original budget for the school expansion project, which is expected to be completed by early to mid-August 2023, in time for the next school year to begin, school officials say.

The road extension had been sought by Norris officials and was agreed to last year by now former City Manager Scott Hackler.

Dr. Tim Parrott, Anderson County’s director of schools, outlined the plan for the road extension to the Planning Commission on Monday, Aug. 1, and although no vote was called for on the plan, the commission members did not indicate they opposed it.

But Parrott told The Courier News on Monday that the Planning Commission’s position on the road had apparently changed since last week’s meeting.

“I got a call this morning from the Planning Commission saying they don’t want that road put in after all,” Parrott said.

He said it was Planning Commission Chairman Joe Feeman who called him to express the commission’s opposition to the road extension plan.

“The problem is that we’ve already bid the contract out,” Parrott said. “We’ve already spent more than $150,000 in architectural fees. … We are way too deep into the project to change things now.”

Parrott said it was the city that approached the school system about the road extension, which would alleviate heavy traffic flows from all of the drop-off and pickup vehicles coming into the school from East Norris Road and then going back out the same way.

“I told them we want to be good neighbors,” Parrott said. “If we can relieve that traffic, that’s what we want to do.”

With the new road, traffic would come into the rear of the school off the traffic circle on East Norris Road, and would exit past Archer’s grocery onto West Norris. There, traffic could turn left and head toward Norris Freeway, or turn right and head back toward Andersonville Highway (Tenn. 61), Parrott said.

When contacted by telephone Monday afternoon, Feeman walked back the idea that he was speaking to Parrott on behalf of the Planning Commission, which has not had any public discussion about canceling the road extension.

“I was just calling as a citizen,” said Feeman, who has been on the Planning Commission about three months, and has been chairman for about two months. “My objection is who knows what it’s going to do to the traffic in the city? I didn’t know there was an option.

“As a public citizen, I called him [Parrott] with my concerns.”

He also acknowledged that any discussions he might have had privately with other commission members would be violations of the Tennessee Open Meetings Law. That law says that not even two members of an official board or commission can discuss public business outside the scope of a public meeting.

Norris Mayor Chris Mitchell said later Monday that he was not aware that Feeman had called Parrott about canceling the road-extension project.

During last week’s Planning Commission meeting, Mitchell and others on the commission sought reassurance from Parrott that stormwater runoff from the new road – which comes down a hill – would be managed to avoid flooding onto West Norris Road.

Mitchell said he was satisfied that the school system would take care of that issue.

“We have discussed with Dr. Parrott that we want the runoff managed appropriately, and I’m happy with his response,” the mayor said. “We have not discussed the location of the road. I don’t consider that a topic. I consider the runoff a topic.”

There also was a personal issue with the road extension that Planning Commission member Loy Johnson brought up with Parrott during the Aug. 1 commission meeting. She said she has concerns about the road because it comes through her property, right next to her real estate office.

As for the middle school expansion, it aims to add five classrooms to the 85-year-old school building, as well as create a 62-space parking lot behind the school that would alleviate parking problems in front of the school in the Norris Commons area.

Norris Middle School Principal Rob Cummings said he believes the parking lot alone will help solve some of the traffic problems, giving the school more spaces for people to park while attending concerts and other after-school activities.

But he said he also believes extending the road behind the school to West Norris Road would be beneficial.

“I think it will help the traffic flow,” Cumming said. “We drop off approximately 300 kids every day – about 60 percent of our kids, in about 250 to 270 cars.

“When you think about them coming up East Norris from [Tenn.] 61, and circling around, I don’t see how the change can’t help but alleviate traffic. We get slowdowns now. Ideally, we won’t get those slowdowns.”