By MARINA WATERS
The current situation for the Jonesborough K-8 School project and the option to purchase the property setting next to the current Jonesborough middle and elementary schools is a bit like the chicken and the egg. Which comes first? And can one be decided without the other?
Washington County’s Health, Education and Welfare Committee doesn’t think so.
The HEW Committee held off on voting on the latest design plan “Scheme 6” for the Jonesborough School project at its Thursday, Nov. 29, meeting after tabling the decision at the committee’s last meeting on Nov. 1. The committee also unanimously approved the county attorney’s recommendation for a 90-day extension on the purchase option for the property setting adjacent to the two current Jonesborough schools.
“I’m the last one to want to slow this project down,” Commissioner and HEW Committee Chairman Danny Edens said at the meeting. “But what I’m being told is if we don’t do it this way, we’re putting the cart before the horse. We’re not going to accomplish much.”
The committee approved the extension on the property, which is currently owned by Joe McCoy, after the Washington County Attorney’s office recommended the extension. Staff Attorney Allyson Wilkinson told commissioners the attorney who reviewed the contract was concerned with restrictions set on the property. Those restrictions came from neighboring business Lowe’s Home Improvement, located beside the McCoy property. Wilkinson also said the property owner and Lowe’s will meet on Dec. 6 to discuss lifting those restrictions.
“The most concerning to (the attorney who reviewed the contract) was a limitation that allowed Lowe’s to review the architectural plans prior to construction and then as built,” Wilkinson said. “There was a concern that that would be a limitation on the use of the property.
Commissioner Jodi Jones asked if the design plan for the Jonesborough School project could even be approved without an answer on the McCoy property.
The design plan, which was chosen by the Washington County Board of Education on Oct. 2, includes renovations and additions to the current middle school building for a $17,560,000 total cost. The plan also includes a road that cuts through the property currently owned by McCoy. That road would bring buses to the school from Main Street rather than Jackson Boulevard.
However, Washington County Attorney Tom Seeley said McCoy has not been able to request that restrictions be released until he had a design plan.
“The restrictions do affect the building of the road. (McCoy) could not go and finalize getting the restrictions released until we had the plan. When (the director of schools) came to this committee with a proposed Scheme 6, (the county attorney paralegal) immediately sent that to Mr. McCoy so he could set up this meeting.”
Though the restrictions on the land are to be discussed this month, another question loomed in the courthouse conference room during the HEW meeting: How much money is available for the Jonesborough school project?
County finance director and current school board member Mitch Meredith reiterated that five pennies from the 2016 tax increase would support a $10 million project in Jonesborough. He added that the commission could consider borrowing and utilizing pennies in the capital projects fund to assist in funding the project.
“You have essentially 26 pennies that we’re utilizing for school capital projects,” Meredith said. “Those are the resources you have at your use in addition to choosing to borrow money.”
As part of the school board’s newly drafted capital improvement list of priorities, Director of Schools Bill Flanary asked on behalf of the board that the commission either consider Scheme 6 or allocate funds to re-roof the elementary and middle school buildings in Jonesborough.
“If Scheme 6 is fully funded, those two (re-roofing items are not necessary,” Flanary said. “If the money can’t be found, we need roofs.”
The meeting didn’t produce an answer for the future of the Jonesborough School project, but Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy proposed a question regarding funds for the school project.
“We can go over these numbers again if you want to, but the reality is it’s not different than it was a month or six weeks ago,” Grandy said. “It’s really not so much ‘is there a magic number for Jonesborough?’, it’s a matter of where the trade-offs are. What are you willing to sacrifice to do this much, or this much, or this much in Jonesborough?”
The committee discussed holding a called HEW meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 19, following McCoy and Lowe’s Dec. 6 meeting. The called meeting has yet to be set on the county’s calendar as of press time, but commissioners said the called meeting would focus on the McCoy property status, Scheme 6 and funding options provided by Meredith.
The Dec. 19 meeting would be held at 5 p.m. in the first floor conference room of the Historic Courthouse at 5 p.m. To view the county’s calendar, go to http://www.washingtoncountytn.org/events.