By MARINA WATERS
The drawing board seems to be all too familiar to the Washington County Board of Education and its chosen Jonesborough School architect, Tony Street.
At the Monday, Nov. 20 called meeting to discuss costs and designs for the upcoming Jonesborough K-8 school project, Street, from Beeson, Lusk and Street Inc. presented the modifications made to his two design plans he presented at the board’s last called meeting.
One of the previous plans was $8.7 million over the Washington County Commission’s $20,750,000 budget approved for the Jonesborough School and magnet school projects. The other original plan was $10.9 million over.
“There are basically two ways you can reduce cost; you can either reduce quality, or you can reduce size, or scope, as we call it often times,” Street said. “Other than that, there’s just not a whole lot you can do. And we’ve done some of both.”
The original first design, which was set at $8.7 million over budget, came in at $3.4 million over even after seeing a reduction in size.
In the modified version of the first plan, the 47 classrooms were reduced to 41, the total square footage was reduced by 15,343 square feet, student capacity was reduced from 1,105 to 955 students, the gym’s seating was reduced to seat 955 students, the four computer rooms were reduced to one room and the school’s stage was removed from the plan.
That plan still included renovating the round portion of the Jonesborough School, which has been an issue for the community; at the Nov. 9 meeting, three Jonesborough Elementary School parents addressed the board with concerns regarding the round portion of the school. Complaints such as asbestos, water damage in the school’s ceilings, and plumbing issues such as backed up sewage and brown water were mentioned.
Street addressed the list of issues, saying a renovation of the round portion of the current Jonesborough Elementary School would include replacing all water lines, removing all asbestos in the school, removing or replacing the ceiling and adding a new roof on the entire building, jet flushing the existing sewer lines, adding a new air conditioning and heating systems and replacing most if not all electrical systems.
He also said there would be two emergency exits at the end of the school’s enclosed middle portion (between the round building and the new portion of the school.) l
The gym floor, which contained mercury, was removed 10 years ago, according to Street.
As for the second design option, which includes tearing down the round portion and was originally set at $10.9 million over the project’s budget, comes in at $5.5 million over the budget and includes the same reductions as the first modified option. However, the total square footage was reduced by 18,000 square feet in this modified version of the second option.
At the meeting, board member Mary Beth Dellinger was concerned the size wouldn’t be adequate for the future growth she believes the school could see.
“I talked to parents at Jonesborough and I know now there are a lot who are home schooled because of the conditions at Jonesborough Elementary specifically,” Dellinger said. “I don’t want to cut back too much. We’re already, after we build it, going to be needing more because I think they’ll come back once they have a nice new school.”
Size wasn’t the only factor at the called meeting; Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge and Washington County Commissioner and Director of Finance and Administration Mitch Meredith joined the school board to discuss the project’s financial aspects.
Meredith said the county could borrow around $77 million in addition to what the county has already borrowed. He also said borrowing that money would create a debt the county was aiming to diminish within the next 20 years.
“If we borrow money, we have to service that debt. Those pennies are going to move from the capital project fund,” Meredith said. “So in 2020 when we have to start paying on this $76 million debt, there’s no more pennies going into the capital projects fund. There’s a little bit of revenue here, but it’s a fraction of a penny. The plan that we started a year or so ago to be able to fund our capital needs with cash, that’s out the window.
“The whole objective for the county, the county taxpayers and everybody else, was to minimize the amount that was borrowed.”
Dellinger suggested cutting out the academic magnet school. Meredith said if the project didn’t include the magnet school, the budget would be around $25 million. However, the commission approved the $20,750,000 million amount for the Jonesborough K-8 and magnet school together.
“We don’t have the money. It’s the commission that has the money,” BOE chairman Jack Leonard said. “They’ve already approved $20,750,000. We’d have to turn around and go back and make the presentation to increase that. It’d be up to the commission whether or not they want to borrow that money.”
Though the commission approved the budget for the project, board member Keith Ervin asked if the board would be able to approve the construction for the magnet school.
“If you say, ‘I’m not going to do the magnet for two years and I’m spending $20,750,000 on a K-8.’,” Meredith said, “I don’t know if that flies.”
The BOE’s next meeting will be held on Thursday, Dec. 7 at 5 p.m. at the Washington County Department of Education Central office located at 405 W College St., Jonesborough.