By Steve Hunley

A long-awaited and anticipated day is about to come to pass for two communities in Knox County, and for the people of Hardin Valley and Gibbs, it simply could not be a more joyous occasion.

Over the past year, the two communities located on opposite ends of the county, had joined forces in expressing their need for new middle schools. While the issues facing Hardin Valley and Gibbs were not identical, community leaders found great common ground in their desire to meet the educational needs of their children. After months of public meetings revealed Gibbs and Hardin Valley middle schools to be immediate needs, the two communities came together and began to ask the school system to build these schools.

Last spring, their voices finally began to be heard. After weeks of debating, voting and crunching numbers, the Knox County Board of Education entered into an agreement with the Knox County Commission and Mayor Tim Burchett to construct the two new middle schools. This Tuesday groundbreaking ceremonies will be held in both Gibbs and Hardin Valley, and the hopes of these two communities will at last be realized.

For Hardin Valley, the need had become apparent in recent years for a new middle school. The Hardin Valley Academy High School had been opened in 2008 to accommodate the growing number of high school students in deep west Knox County. Neighboring high schools of Karns and Farragut were running at capacity and could not handle the growth facing the Hardin Valley area.

But it soon became obvious that a middle school was needed as well. It is difficult for a community to flourish without all the spokes of the educational wheel in place – which includes elementary, middle, and high schools. By 2014 Hardin Valley Academy had become the largest high school in Knox County, but no direct feeder middle school existed in the Hardin Valley community. That’s when community leaders began to express their concerns.

For the Gibbs community, the issues have been different, and based on other extenuating factors. As a result, the fight has been much longer, and at times even more frustrating. Located in northeast Knox County, Gibbs is a rural but vibrant and growing community that for many years had all the spokes of the educational wheel intact. But in 1991, Gibbs Middle School was closed, and students from the Gibbs-Corryton area were bused to attend Holston Middle School. For many Gibbs area students, the distance was more than 15 miles. This practice of busing in students from Gibbs has continued for 25 years despite the fact that there are two middle schools within 4 miles of each other in East Knoxville.

But after years of what often seemed like a losing fight, Gibbs community leaders felt that a new generation of leadership in Knox County might at last be willing to right the wrong. The Gibbs community came together and began asking the School Board and County Commission to fix this gross transportation inequity and give their community the opportunity to reach its full potential by returning its middle school.

School Board Chair Mike McMillan and Commission Chair Dave Wright both did a stellar job in making sure the voices of these citizens were heard, and it did not take long to convince other representatives that the right thing to do for Knox County was to build these two middle schools. And so with the help of Mayor Burchett and his staff, an agreement was reached, architects were put to work, and construction is now set to begin.

This Tuesday, February 9, groundbreaking ceremonies will be held at the sites of the two new schools. The ceremony for Gibbs Middle School will be at 11 a.m. at the property behind the current Gibbs Elementary, and the Hardin Valley groundbreaking will take place at 1 p.m. behind Hardin Valley Academy. The public is both invited and encouraged to attend. Since school will be in session, to alleviate parking, shuttle service will be provided to the Gibbs groundbreaking from the Gibbs Ruritan Park, located just .3 miles away. Those wishing to attend are reminded to dress warmly, because these ceremonies will be held outdoors.

Last October the Gibbs community gathered for a celebration cookout under a tent near the building site for the new middle school. Emcee Richie Beeler welcomed the large crowd with the declaration, “It’s a great day for the Gibbs community.” The crowd responded with cheers of joy. It is always a great day when right prevails. Now another great day has come, and those cheers can echo across an entire county. All the way from Gibbs to Hardin Valley.