On Monday, the Johnson City Commission and Johnson City Schools officials hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for the new gym and cafeteria at Liberty Bell Middle School, marking what could be considered the first major milestone of the project.
“This is huge,” Superintendent Steve Barnett said ahead of the event.
The 40,000-square-foot building housing both the gym and cafeteria is expected to be completed in about 18 months. The gym will have the capacity to hold 1,300 people, while the cafeteria will be able to hold about 350.
Barnett said officials could make a final decision on the establishment of the two schools “in the spring.”
“The opening time (for the two schools) would coincide with the opening of this building,” he said, adding that Liberty Bell will soon be able to hold about 1,300 students.
“It would probably be the 2021-22 school year when we’d be able to do that.”
Barnett said the opening of the new gym and cafeteria will help free up Freedom Hall Civic Center during the school day.
“This piece needs to occur for us to be able to go to two 5-8 middle schools. It also gets us out of Freedom Hall during the school day and allows the city to use Freedom Hall as a civic center,” he said. “It allows students to be under one roof so students do not have to leave and go over to Freedom Hall for lunch and physical education.”
Along with other school and city officials, Mayor David Tomita said he was excited to see the $9.4 million construction project finally come to fruition.
Ahead of the ceremony, Tomita reminisced on what Ralph Van Brocklin — the former school board member, mayor and commissioner who died last month — would’ve thought about seeing the groundbreaking event.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our fallen comrade Ralph Van Brocklin. This was a hugely important project for him,” he said. “I hope somewhere prominently in that building, his name is displayed. He was quite an advocate for what we’re breaking ground on here today.”