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County enters another land option; some BOE members unhappy with process

The property for a potential new Jonesborough school sits between East Jackson Boulevard and East Main Street.
The property for a potential new Jonesborough school sits between East Jackson Boulevard and East Main Street.

By COLLIN BROOKS

Staff Writer

[email protected]

Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge announced on Thursday that the county has signed a land option on the 15.5 acre McCoy property, which sits adjacent to Jonesborough Elementary and behind Pal’s on East Jackson Boulevard, for a possible extension to the elementary school to form a new Jonesborough K-8.

“This is just the first step in exploring the feasibility of what the school board has proposed for the Jonesborough K-8 project,” Eldridge said. “Essentially, what an option does is ties up the property while the architect does the feasibility work and develops a concept for the school board’s approval.”

A $50,000-per-acre option was signed for the property for a total of $775,000.

But that wasn’t the piece of property that seemed to divide the school board during their August meeting. It was the new site for the Boones Creek K-8, known as the Williams property which sits at the corner of Boones Creek Road and Highland Church, that was brought up at the end of the meeting.

Members of the board cited wording in T.C.A. 49-2-203, but Washington County Attorney Tom Seeley said, numerous times, that those laws pertain to the construction of the school, into which the county has not yet entered.

The next phase is a construction plan, which the board and their architect will have complete control of.

“We are suppose to be the ones negotiating for this land,” board member Annette Buchanan said. “And I really think that is something that we need to form a committee for and get started on.”
Seeley made a rare appearance at the meeting in order to address these findings.

“I am not sure that is accurate,” said Seeley when members said they were delegated by law to do the negotiations for the purchase of the property.

Eldridge said on Tuesday that all he negotiated was the price for the property as the chief financial officer of the county and entered into a purchase agreement at the direction of the Washington County Commission, which passed Resolution 16-08-16 directing him to do so.

“If you look at the statue, the law says that the school board chooses the site and that the county commission pays for it,” Eldridge said. “What I did was work out a financial agreement to purchase the property that the school board selected.

“I’ll be honest with you, I have no idea what they were complaining about. I very quickly went out and secured an agreement to purchase the property that they chose…The contract of purchase is a financial obligation, which falls under the responsibility of the county commission, the school board isn’t paying for this, the county commission is.”

Former Washington County Director of Schools Grant Rowland told the Herald and Tribune on Tuesday morning that he was “startled” when he read in the paper that the school wasn’t negotiating the new piece of property.

He said that he and the school board were the parties that negotiated the price for both Grandview and Ridgeview properties, and “that is the way it has been for the past 50 years,” Rowland said.

Former Washington County Mayor George Jaynes said he recalled that it was a collaborative effort when those properties were negotiated.

Board Member Phillip McLain recalled those negotiations during the meeting on Thursday night, saying that Ridgeview and Grandview were purchased with the school board negotiating the price.

“Everything that we have been told is that yes, we selected the site, the county funds it, but it is up to us to negotiate the land and work with the architect for what we want built, have the architect put the bids out,” McClain said.

That statement was countered by board member Todd Ganger who clarified he had not been told that and asked “Who told us that?”

“Legal from TSBA (Tennessee School Boards Association), told some individuals that inquired about the legalities,” McClain replied.

“This is dealing with construction contracts, this is an attorney general’s opinion” Seeley said about the document that was passed out. “So this is not Tennessee Code or a statue…With regard to the purchase and securing the site, what was authorized by the county commission was for us to secure the site. So again, I am not sure we are talking about the same thing.”

Washington County Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton seemed very surprised that this was not mentioned to her before it was brought up at the meeting.

“I am very concerned at this juncture, we have made so much progress, I am deeply concerned about this and I am deeply concerned that no one informed me that this was even going to be brought about,” Halliburton said.

The new director of schools was very cautionary with her board when she told them that they shouldn’t point fingers at their funding body.

“I think we have to be very careful of being accusatory,” Halliburton said. “The county commission approved this, so I think we are starting to move in a direction where this board has an opportunity to have a really good rapport and relationship with the commission, I really do.”

New BOE Chairman Jack Leonard agreed with Halliburton but said, “I just want us to be more involved and be more of the of the leaders of the education area, which our community and our constituents want us to be.”

Ganger said that instead of going to dig up this information, if the participants would have asked more questions, “rather than running to get this, they would have understood better,” he said. “Instead of trying to railroad something or try to catch someone that they think they are doing wrong.”

McLain replied saying that they were just trying to get clarification .

“When we read in the paper that it may only be 20 acres and we have already voted on 56, then I get real confused and concerned,” McLain said.

After all the back-and-forth, nothing was decided in the matter.

Seeley told the BOE that anytime they have a question they should contact him and if he doesn’t have an answer then he will try find the answer. The next step for the land is for the school board and their architect to approve a site plan and hire a construction company.