By MARINA WATERS
It seems a health crisis hasn’t stopped local officials from considering plans for the future Jonesborough K-8 School.
The school’s design committee, comprised of local officials, school personnel and school building professionals, met electronically on Wednesday, April 29, to discuss preliminary plans for the new school.
“It was nice to begin this process and update our members on the feedback our staff has collected,” Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest said. “We think 99% of the process has been complete — that’s mostly getting lawyers to sign off on everything. Beginning that (design committee meeting) process now has been important in working with the architects on putting it all together.”
Vest said he expects the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen to discuss a resolution next week for the architect’s contract and the financing for the project with rural development.
“What we’re doing is somewhat unique,” Vest said, “and how we’re using the architects and project managers and using (former town administrator) Bob Browning to spearhead this for the town, it’s something new that rural development hasn’t done before. They’re excited about it. It’s just a matter of getting all the lawyers on the same page.”
In the meantime, the committee saw a new design plan, which was a two-story concept rather than the one-story plan originally presented by the Town of Jonesborough.
“Having spoken to a lot of different people, we’re now feeling that maybe doing a full two-story (building) might be the more appropriate use of that site,” Jay McCusker with Ken Ross Architects said during the design committee meeting. “We can make it more compact and allow us to do some different things and have room for expansion later on.”
The 48-acre site on North Cherokee Street in Jonesborough will also include athletic and recreational facilities for school and community use. Vest told the Herald & Tribune other opportunities such as an amphitheater could also be considered on the site.
“The school is the most important component there,” Vest said, “But we want to make sure we have a great park facility surrounding that school and it’s not just the athletic side of the parks. We want to make sure the grounds around there have uses too for the community. That’s going to be part of this design too, to make sure we have a great park facility.
“Also bringing in some of the components we have downtown with storytelling and the agriculture connection there with maybe our farmer’s market and other places, it’s really exciting to see.’
Part of the school plan also includes teaming up with BrightRidge.
Bob Browning, the town’s recently retired town administrator who is now working as a town consultant for the school project, said BrightRidge is interested in dedicating a section of its solar farm to the school, which could go towards the cost of utilities at the Jonesborough School.
“The kilowatts that would be produced from that section of that solar farm would be dedicated to reduce the cost of electricity at the school itself,” Browning said. “Even during the summertime when you’re getting the most production of kilowatts, those hours would be credited to the school and the payment to BrightRidge. They would much rather do it that way rather than putting solar in the roof … their comment was we can make this a whole lot easier and not have to have extra costs. We thought that was a great idea.”
Browning also said it’s possible that BrightRidge could put a couple of panels at the school near a science lab for educational purposes.
As for the cost of the school project as a whole, Browning said the price for the project was still set at $32,750,000, but the interest rate recently decreased, which could offer some savings on the county’s end.
“The good thing is the rural development interest rate has continued to drop,” Browning told the committee. “Currently it’s 2.38%, which is a major benefit for the county because the project was initially put together on a 3% basis. The $32,750,000 cost is fixed as far as the Town of Jonesborough is concerned, but if there are any savings in interest rates, that benefits the county, which we’re certainly happy about.”
A primary interest was also set on safety at the school.
McCusker said the goal in the school design was to not have a need for the school resource officer to direct traffic by having stacking space for cars during student drop off and pick up at the building.
“The idea is that the SRO officer is not needed outside the building and is always available to watch the building itself,” McCusker said. “That is the goal. It’s a very common practice for the SRO to be outside so people get used to that idea that that’s where the SRO should be but strategically it’s not. It’s an idea that a lot of schools are experiencing because a lot of schools are older, like the building you’re in now, where it simply wasn’t designed for this sort of use. We’re trying to look at it from a broader picture and the ways it will be used in the future, not necessarily making an assumption based on what we’ve done in the past.”
Browning said, along with building design and technology to ensure safety, a plan is being considered between the town and the county’s law enforcement offices should there be an emergency in the building.
“It’s important that we develop an overall plan with the sheriff’s department,” Browning said. “We feel like if the system is designed in such a way that if a call comes in to the police department dispatchers, we can get there quickly and there is a coordinated plan between the sheriff’s office and the town in particular in how they respond and who does what when they get there first. We are committed to working with the sheriff’s department to develop that overall strategy.”
Browning added that the committee will seek input from a panel of school principals and the school system’s elementary supervisor on what is needed in terms of the number of classrooms.
“We need to have more conversations about how many classrooms are needed,” Browning said. “(Director of Schools Bill Flanary) talked about having a panel of key principals with the elementary supervisor. We feel really positive about that. We think that could be really helpful for us to sit down and work through the details of how these classrooms work with each other.”
The next Jonesborough BMA meeting will be held on Monday, May 11. The next design committee meeting will be held on Wednesday, May 27, at 4 p.m. For more information, go to https://www.jonesboroughtn.org/index.php/component/k2/212-new-jonesborough-k-8-school-design-committee.