By MARINA WATERS
The Jonesborough community, once again showed up for the upcoming Jonesborough K-8 school project.
But this time, it wasn’t in a board room at the central office — it was in a crowded middle school gymnasium where multiple members of the community stood face to face with county officials in order to voice concerns and ask questions regarding the project.
“I’m just glad you’re listening to us and are letting us be a part of this process because it’s important,” Jonesborough Elementary School parent Candice Greenlee said. “It’s not going to be the big debacle of 2018 where we wasted a bunch of money. It’s going to be ‘the community came together, we thought this through, we made a good decision and we moved it forward for these children.’”
In an attempt to better help the community understand the project, board member Phillip McLain presented all four of the future school’s design plan options and dollar amounts, including the “scheme three” plan to renovate and add on to the existing Jonesborough Middle School building where the meeting was held. For Washington County Commissioner Lynn Hodge, who answered community questions at the meeting, Scheme Three is the only viable option.
“The decision you have to make should not be a decision based on perceived fairness, but should be a decision based on what Washington County can afford,” Hodge said, “partially considering there are schools in Washington County far older than what the Jonesborough School is. Washington County cannot afford option one or two without tax increases, but we can afford option three. And it is within the budget.”
Of the plan options, Scheme One includes renovations and additions to the current Jonesborough Elementary School site and Scheme Two includes renovations and additions to the elementary school and demolition to the round portion of the school. Meanwhile, Scheme Two (A) involved renovations, additions, tearing down the round and slight reductions in size. Scheme Three involved renovations and additions to the middle school building.
Scheme One, Two and Two (A) are out of the county’s budget. Scheme Three is within budget.
But for Kerrie Aistrop, a Jonesborough parent who recently announced her candidacy for the upcoming school board election, a remodel of the middle school still brings about concerns.
“We’re not getting a new gym floor, we’re not getting new lockers — pretty much we’re getting a paint job on this school and then we’re going to build on,” Aistrop said at the meeting. “That part’s going to be brand new. So I don’t know that this is technically a true remodel for the middle school … I feel like this scheme has been taken down so small that this is as good as it gets.”
“If we could get a full remodel at this middle school, I’d say absolutely. If you’re going to guarantee these pipes are going to be cleaned, every bit of asbestos is out of this school, I’d say go for it. But my main concern is safety for my kids.”
Along with board members and commissioners, the project’s architect, Tony Street, also came ready with information, including a list of what all a remodel of the middle school building would entail.
Street said the school would have replaced glass, new heating and air for the entire building, a new roof, new plumbing in existing dressing rooms, replaced concrete floors in dressing rooms and bathrooms, hardware for current doors, new ceilings and lights, a refinished gym floor, new ceiling tiles, enlarged classrooms, new intercom and security systems, new sewer and water lines and a stage in the gymnasium.
Apart from concerns with current plans, the community also had questions regarding funding; Jonesborough parent Rachel Bates, who has addressed the school board at recent meetings regarding the project, directed most of her questions to Hodge and the county commission.
Bates asked that the commission consider using part of its fund balance to cover the rest of the project’s cost. She also referenced the athletic complex slated to be built next to the Boones Creek K-8 school.
“How can you call it financially responsible to spend $3.5 million on a sports complex when you have the issue we have going on at this school?’ Bates said. “How is that fiscally responsible?”
The athletic facilities complex is not part of the Boones Creek School project. Instead, it’s a county-owned project that the commission has targeted to jointly operate with Johnson City. However, at a recent athletic facilities task force meeting between the two entities, city officials said the sports complex plans don’t fit the city’s current needs.
In looking at the Jonesborough School potential plans, many community members asked about Jonesborough’s athletic facility options as well as where the playground is planned to be placed.
Street said the area to the left of Jonesborough Elementary School could be utilized for athletic fields, though there are no plans to do so currently. He also said the land is privately owned but that the property would be purchased with the project.
“I’m saying this is available for some sort of outdoor activity down the road,” Street said. “Currently it’s not in the budget.”
BOE Chairman Jack Leonard said the land purchase is currently in the hands of the county attorney and that the land option closes at the end of February.
The next BOE meeting will be held on Thursday, Feb. 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Washington County Department of Education Central Office, located at 405 West College Street, Jonesborough.