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‘Safety over ballfields’: Parents’ frustration over Jonesborough school spills out during new athletic facility discussion

Kerrie Aistrop and Jamie Freeman display the difference between outside spaces for the new Boones Creek School and Jonesborough Elementary to the Washington County Commission.


Staff Writer

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Update: A joint meeting to discuss a “Jonesborough School building proposal” between the county commission, the Washington County Board of Education and the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen has been scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 15, at 6 p.m. at the McKinney Center located at 103 Franklin Ave., Jonesborough.

The poster-sized photos depicting the difference between the future Boones Creek School’s outdoor space and that of Jonesborough Elementary’s seemed huge as parent Kerrie Aistrop and local teacher Jamie Freeman held them in front of commissioners.

But somehow, those images and their impact only grew larger as commissioners considered the county athletic facility project versus the student needs in Jonesborough.

“Is it too much to ask that you say, ‘Okay, let’s get our priorities straight — children’s safety first and then let’s build those ballfields,’? Aistrop asked the commission. “I don’t think that’s a very unfair thing to ask.”

The Jonesborough School project, which last saw a “Scheme 6” design plan voted down by the county commission in May, came to the forefront during Monday’s meeting when commissioners considered phase one of the county’s sports facility project behind the new Boones Creek School. Phase one of the project for no more than $800,000 was approved in a 9-5 vote, with Steve Light, Kent Harris, Jerome Fitzgerald, Danny Edens and Mike Ford voting against (Robbie Tester abstained from the vote).

To parents and community members at the meeting, it was less about the dirt being used for the athletic project and more about putting funds towards upgrading Jonesborough Elementary and Middle Schools.

“If we have the money to open this brand new (Boones Creek) school and build ballfields, how can we possibly not have $800,000 that could remove the asbestos? Let’s spend the money to put in a fire system. I’m asking you all to prioritize the absolute needs in this county before we go and get extras,” Aistrop said.

“Think about the decisions that us Jonesborough parents are going through seeing this great school being built and this great idea of ballfields … But this is what we have,” she said as she tapped on the Jonesborough Elementary School photo. “And y’all are going to vote for $800,000 and then a $3 to $5 million sports complex down the road when we can’t even do anything to fix this.”

Aistrop and another parent, Josh Ledford, spoke at the meeting after parents received a letter that day saying the water in the cafeteria at Jonesborough Middle School had too much lead in its water supply according to state standards.

The news of the excess amount of lead in the cafeteria’s water, in addition to the commission’s decision to vote on the next step in the athletic facility project, were enough to bring Ledford back to the podium after two years of grid lock and a project standstill in regards to the elementary and middle schools in Jonesborough.

“I’m glad, genuinely, honest-to-God glad that the kids at Boones Creek are getting this school because those kids deserve it,” Ledford said. “I want my money that I pay for my taxes to go to our local government and straight to our kids. But when I see on one hand that my kid doesn’t have safe drinking water in the lunchroom and then there’s a meeting for a $5 million ball field, it hurts me. I grew up behind that middle school. I’ve lived here my whole life. I’m proud of this community. I’m glad to be a part of it and I want my children to be proud of it too. My kids can’t be proud of what they have.”

The budget for the athletic facilities project is $3.2 million. The Jonesborough School was originally set to be a renovation project for $10 million, and eventually had a $20,750,000 budget for a Jonesborough K-8 School renovation and addition project at the current elementary school site and the creation of a academic magnet at the middle school site. However, county officials maintained those dollars were not allocated and is no longer budgeted for a Jonesborough School project.

As for the future of the Jonesborough School project, Chairman Greg Matherly resulted back to that former plan to use $10 million for a Jonesborough renovation.

After coming down from the chairman’s bench in the courtroom to the commission floor, Matherly requested the school system “bring the plans” for that next step.

“Even up until the last few months, the last few (financial) proposals we had, (county financial director Mitch Meredith) told us we had $10 million to spend there at Jonesborough,” Matherly said. “Let’s get the plan together and bring it to this county commission. Let’s bring it to Jonesborough if that’s what we want to do. I’m for it, 100 percent. Let’s put the plan together. We’re just waiting for it.

“If it requires a tax increase to build a new school, this commission needs to consider that. It will take the support of the parents to do that. It will take support of the teachers, (the director of schools) Dr. Flanary. It will take so much support. But I think it’s very important.”

In consideration of the athletic facility project, commissioners expressed concern in approving the next step in the sports project while a solution has yet to be found for the schools in Jonesborough.

“When we can’t put the necessities out there for them, I don’t think we’re at the point where we can build four fields,” Ford said. “I just don’t feel like we’re there.”

As for Washington County’s other schools, Danny Edens said he felt those other schools also had athletic facility needs.

“We’ve got other county schools, not just Jonesborough,” Edens said. “South Central School, they bus their kids to a ruritan building too play baseball and softball. Jonesborough, among with all their other problems, they bus their kids to Persimmon Ridge to play softball, baseball and soccer. And they have to work their practices and their games around a whole entire age group of little leaguers because they have to share the field.

“So they don’t just have the drinking water problems and the asbestos problems and the mold problems and the roaches that are crawling out of the wall problems — because I’ve seen them. They’ve got other issues with their ball fields because they don’t have ball fields.

“And we’ve got a brand new school sitting out there for Boones Creek.”