Update: On Thursday, Aug. 22, the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Alderman passed a resolution in support of the Town of Jonesborough’s proposal to build and lease a new Jonesborough K-8 school to Washington County and any association preliminary documents involved. The Washington County Board of Education will hold a called meeting on Thursday, Aug. 29, at 5 p.m. to discuss the Jonesborough School building proposal.
By MARINA WATERS
It’s been more than two years of looking over plans for the Jonesborough School project. But after Thursday’s joint meeting between the Washington County Commission, the Washington County Board of Education and the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen — when town officials presented a design plan for the project — it’s clear there are now even more pieces in the Jonesborough School project puzzle.
During the joint meeting at the McKinney Center, Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest proposed a plan for a “joint community school and recreation center” that would include a new Jonesborough School with recreation facilities on a 48-acre site on North Cherokee Street in Jonesborough.
“There are so many kids that need this,” Vest said. “We’ve done a lot of leg work to get us to this point. There’s no reason our three boards can’t come through and expedite this, approve this and get it going in short order.”
The plan calls for a $2,362,000 annual lease payment from the county over 20 years. At the end of that lease, the school board would own the building. Jim Wheeler, who is the town attorney and a county commissioner, said $2,637,000 would be available in the capital fund to make those annual payments, leaving $275,000 in the capital improvements fund to be used for other needs.
“We talked about thinking outside the box and getting creative (at the county’s previous budget meetings),” Wheeler said. “It kept coming to my mind that we needed to do something else other than just doing renovations to the school. I wasn’t the only one.”
So how would the plan work?
In the proposal, the county would lease the grounds for the recreational facilities —which include a baseball field, a softball field, two youth soccer fields, a track, soccer field and football field and a walking trail — from the town.
The town would secure the property, the financing, the selection of the architect and engineer and final approval of the final cost and design of the school.
As for the school board, it would operate and maintain the school building upon completion. The proposal also calls for them to sell the front of the Jonesborough Elementary property as well as the Midway property to a “tax paying individual or entity” after the new school is built. The money from the sale of those properties would then go to the county to “reimburse” the county capital improvements fund.
How does the school board and county commission feel about the town’s Jonesborough School proposal?
BOE Chairman Keith Ervin said he’s in favor of the plan, but there’s a lot to still be worked out.
“I’ve got mixed emotions about it,” Ervin said. “I feel like the board needs to be the one that’s designing the school and (choosing) the architect and everything. I just feel like we’ve been left out. It’s just taken a lot of decisions out of the board’s hand.”
As for the commission, Chairman Greg Matherly praised the town’s proposal saying he looked forward to seeing if a request for the plan comes to the commission from the BOE. Until then, he’s hoping to get more clarity on how the BOE and community feels about what many officials have called a “hopeful” plan.
“I told (the community) to bring a plan,” Matherly said, thinking back to the July commission meeting. “And that’s what they did. I’m encouraged. I really am.”
The proposed site, which sets on North Cherokee Street just past Thompson Meadow Lane behind the justice center in Jonesborough, is owned by Curtis Lynn. Town Administrator Bob Browning said the 48-acre tract is in a location that would get the school off of Highway 11-E, would be large enough for the school and recreational facilities — which also include an additional baseball and softball fields — and could also create growth in Jonesborough.
“The idea that you create a new school in a location that generates additional growth is certainly a factor,” Browning said. “When you improve access to the school, then you’re also improving access to inlets and areas with vacant property that could be developed. That was certainly a consideration that the county used in making a determination on locating the Boones Creek School where they did.”
This isn’t the first time the town has come up with a plan and a possible new location for the Jonesborough School; in 2015 plans for a community school on Boones Creek Road, which Browning said connects to the recently proposed Lynn property, was presented when the county and school board were still considering a renovation project for Jonesborough Elementary and Jonesborough Middle and a new K-8 school for Boones Creek.
“For quite a while we have been concerned about the Jonesborough School and whether a new one was going to get built or whether it was going to remain on the existing property,” Browning recalled. “We have supported any kind of consideration of moving the Jonesborough School off of that site because of the major congestion created every day the school is open in its existing location.”
Ervin said the school board plans to have a called meeting to discuss the proposal in the next week or so. Meanwhile, the Jonesborough BMA will meet on Thursday, Aug. 22 at 8 a.m. in the Town Hall board room to discuss the proposal.
“(The meeting will) give our BMA an opportunity to take a formal position in offering this opportunity to the county and the school board,” Browning said. “Individually, they have received updates on what we’re doing, but it becomes an opportunity for them to take a look at it and take a formal position for the Town of Jonesborough.”