The Washington County School Board voted to ‘tear down the round’ at the current Jonesborough Elementary School in the plans for the upcoming Jonesborough School.

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

mwaters@heraldandtribune.com

The board of education officially decided on a design plan for the upcoming Jonesborough K-8, but that didn’t keep them from once again going in circles — and this time, against the clock.

Board member Mary Beth Dellinger made a motion for the board to adopt a plan which includes tearing down the round portion of the current Jonesborough Elementary building, renovating the existing rectangular portions and adding new construction to the school as well.

In a 5-4 vote, board members Dellinger, Annette Buchanan, Phillip McLain, Keith Ervin and David Hammond voted in favor of the Scheme 2 plan. Board members Mike Masters, Todd Ganger, Clarence Mabe and Jack Leonard were opposed.

“I’ve talked to parents at Jonesborough and I make a motion to send Scheme 2 to the county commission and appeal to their sense of fairness,” Dellinger said. “It might come back to us, but at least that’s what (Jonesborough parents) want.”

Before the decision was made, board member Keith Ervin’s motion to table a decision for the future school was voted down 5-4 in order for the nine-member board to discuss their options — and to see how much time they had left.

Because of the possibility of facing increased interest and construction rates, time was of the essence to finally come to a decision after months of looking over multiple design plans, according to the board.

“I don’t want to wait. I want to get things going as fast as we can because of the threat of increased interest rates and an increase in construction costs that we could be facing,” Hammond said about the Jonesborough school project. “But again, I want to do it right.”

Time wasn’t the only concern; architect Tony Street said the grand total for the plan would be $23,773,780. The Washington County Commission allocated $20,750,000 for a Jonesborough School project as well as an academic magnet — the latter was not part of the design plan chosen by the majority of the school board.

In order for the plan to become a reality for the K-8, the commission will have to rescind its previously approved plan for two renovation and construction projects rather than just one before the commission votes on Scheme 2.

The design options weren’t as simple as a plan with or without the round portion of the elementary school, however. Street presented a final option at the Dec. 7 meeting that involved renovating and adding onto Jonesborough Middle School rather than Jonesborough Elementary.

That plan, “Scheme 3”, included enlarging the current classrooms and the cafeteria, building a new entrance and renovating the gymnasium and locker rooms. The total for the plan was $31,000 under budget, the only design plan not over the amount allotted for the project.

Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said at the board’s finance meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 6 that he felt scheme three was a good way to leave the round, 1970s open-classroom portion of the elementary school in the past.

“Here’s the issue — and I’m sure you all share the exact same concern; we’ve got a scenario at Jonesborough Elementary that, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why it’s been allowed to exist for 45 years,” Eldridge said. “I mean there is no doubt in my mind that is impacting the educational achievement of those kids. And if for no other reason than to deal with that issue and to put that behind us once and for all, I think this (scheme three) is a good way forward.”

At the finance meeting, Eldridge also said the county did not have a scenario to be able to fund scheme two.

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But for board members such as Dellinger, who has been an advocate for ‘tearing down the round’ at recent meetings, renovating and adding onto the middle school doesn’t provide equity for the Jonesborough School as compared to the Boones Creek School currently under construction on Boones Creek Road.

“I just don’t think the two buildings are equitable. I just don’t,” Dellinger said. “Boones Creek seems to be where all the focus is and this one is just an afterthought. I just can’t get very excited about it to think, the first one was going to be a redo of the round building and this one is going to be a redo of a 75-year-old building. I don’t know, I just don’t think either one are that acceptable.

“I thought 10 years ago whoever designed Grandview and Ridgeview did a good job of making them equal. And this is not equal. This is sad, a sad attempt.”

After the board bounced ideas around such as combining Asbury and Midway schools and selling the schools’ current properties, Chairman Jack Leonard voiced his concern regarding the project’s budget — and the funding body that would have to approve the plan.

“We were given a budget and was told that was all the money we were going to have,” Leonard said. “We don’t make money. We don’t tax. They raised 40 cents tax — I don’t think the county commission’s going to go back and raise the taxes again. We can’t approve something without being able to pay for it.

“We have to be prepared for push back if we’re going to move forward with this. They’re the ones who are going to have to pay for it.”

Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton, who has been an advocate for the academic magnet, said she would do her best to convince the commission to delay the magnet. She also called for support in facing the commission’s committees with the board’s design plan decision.

“I need school board members at committee meetings to help me, to support me,” Halliburton said. “It’s easy to bring these things up and rally the troops, but they ask some difficult questions — and I can answer those questions — but it just appears like I have no one behind me.

“If this is important to this board, show up at committee meetings and be ready to answer their tough questions. I have board members that have never been to a committee meeting, but they’ll rally the parents. I just need support.”

Scheme two will have to go through the county commission’s monthly health education and welfare committee and the budget committee meetings in January before it can be voted on by the full commission.