By MARINA WATERS
After a year of attempting to get a Jonesborough K-8 School design plan somewhat figured out, the Washington County Health, Education and Welfare Committee, once again, voted out Washington County Board of Education’s plans for the school.
A 3-2 vote denied the “Scheme 4” plan to tear down the round portion of the current Jonesborough Elementary School building along with other renovations and additions at a cost of $17,451,000.
However, the plan included building the school in phases; the $17.5 million would build a K-4 while the remaining area for grades 5-8 would be built when money would become available. Dan Jackson from Beeson, Lusk & Street Inc. said the two wings that would be built later in the plan would cost $8.2 million according to today’s construction costs. Commissioners Danny Edens and Suzy Williams voted in favor of the plan. Commissioners Lee Chase, Tom Krieger and Paul Stanton were opposed.
Edens, who made the motion to pass the design plan on to the county’s budget committee, said he felt it wasn’t the commission’s job to choose a school plan, but to serve as the funding body.
“I don’t feel like it’s up to this committee for the commission to decide what the school board does or how they do it. We can have an opinion and we can share that amongst ourselves, but I don’t think we can have a voice in that,” Edens said. “What we do have a voice in is money.”
“You want to build it in phases? We’ve done that in this county. We’ve built more than one school in phases in this county. It’s been proven that it can be done. It may not be an ideal situation, but it can be done. I would be willing to support this plan because it is a school board decision, not a county commission decision.”
Because grades 5-8 would remain at the middle school until the two wings could be built, facility maintenance of the middle school building was also discussed.
Williams asked what would become of the middle school building during and after construction in this plan. The school system’s maintenance supervisor, Phillip Patrick, said the Scheme 4 plan, which is $19,000 under the county’s allotted $20,750,000 for the project, would also include renovations of the dressing rooms at the middle school in order to alleviate the sewer smell issue, which has been discussed at numerous board meetings.
In regards to the middle school building, school board member Mary Beth Dellinger, who was in the audience at the meeting, said the board is looking at potentially selling Asbury and Midway and moving those students into the current middle school building.
She also said in this design plan, the future area to be constructed for grades 5-8 could reflect the drop in student enrollment, which the county has been battling in recent years.
“One of the advantages in building it in phases would be that we could see exactly what we needed,” Dellinger said. “If enrollment drops like you all have mentioned, we would see the enrollment as we look at building the wings. We may not need that whole area that have been projected. That way, unlike we did with Boones Creek, we could see exactly what we need.”
However, Krieger, who is also the HEW Committee chairman, said the money was still a hold up for him, as was the timeline for the plan.
“My concern is spending almost a full budgeted amount for a school for 600-and-some students.,” Krieger said. “It’s going to cost us another $8 million or more to get to the original plan the school board wanted.
“And I don’t see a time table. I don’t really see a whole plan. I see fragments. I’m just really concerned. I could not support this.”
Meanwhile, Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge voiced his financial concerns for the plan that he said would only “change the shape” of the school.
“You’re at $20,750,000 to build a K-4. When you add in this additional $8 million in today’s dollars to finish this project, we’ve now got a $29 million project to build a K-8 when we’re spending $25.3 million in Boones Creek to do the same thing,” Eldridge said. “I’m missing something here, obviously. Why would we spend this to change the shape at Jonesborough Elementary? Because that’s what we’re doing, effectively, changing the shape.”
Though the committee weighed enrollment numbers and costs involved with the plan, the growing split between the BOE was also a concern for commissioners in considering the plan.
Williams said she wanted to know how divided the board was on the decision to bring the Scheme 4 plan to the committee. The BOE approved the plan in a 5-4 vote at their latest meeting.
School board member Clarence Mabe, who voted in opposition of the design plan at the last BOE meeting and was also in the crowd during the HEW meeting, said he felt another plan, which was also under budget, in his opinion, was a better option.
“The board voted to do it, and I’m a part of the board,” Mabe said, “but I disagreed with it because we had one proposal there that was in budget and fit all the students at one time. If we wait much longer, (due to increasing interest and construction costs) it’s going to be up another $3 million to $6 million.”
At the meetings’ end, Eldridge also voiced concerns regarding the divided BOE. The county mayor said he felt the majority of the board was not concerned with “improving the educational opportunity” for Washington County students.
“I believe educational attainment is the foundation for the future economic prosperity of this county and it is the school board’s responsibility to establish that foundation. Therefore, I have encouraged and supported this commission’s efforts to increase operational funding and provide for the longterm capital needs,” Eldridge said. “And this county commission has responded in a big way by investing in (Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton’s) vision and plans to improve outcomes and has also provided long-term funding for facility replacements and upgrades in this school system. As a result, Director Halliburton has had the resources to do exactly what she promised to do when she came here two years ago.
“The fact that Director Halliburton’s plans are improving our school system makes the school board’s actions over the last several months look, at the very least, obstructionist. So you can put me in the category with those who don’t believe the majority of this school board is serious about improving the educational opportunity for our children … which I believe is evidenced by this latest request that would spend $20 million just to change the shape of the building.”