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School site battle continues among board members

Washington County Board of Education examine the Highland Church Road site during the board meeting on Thursday, July 7.
Washington County Board of Education examine the Highland Church Road site during the board meeting on Thursday, July 7.

By COLLIN BROOKS

Staff Writer

[email protected]

Saving the county money and taking the time needed to vet all potential sites seemed to be the main concern of the five  Washington County Board of Education members that voted 5-4 in opposition of a 57-acre property on the corner of Highland Church Road and Boones Creek Road as the site for the new Boones Creek K-8 school.

Board member David Hammond, who was absent in June when the board deadlocked 4-4 on the same site, said that he knew he was going to make people mad with his decision, but that he needed 30 more days to speak with community members and constituents. However, that does not mean that the property cannot be voted on again.

“This process has been needed for years, but with spending tens-of-millions-of-dollars, I just wanted to take 30 days and get back with the constituents, get with the concerns they might have and get more input from them,” Hammond said after the meeting. “No one wants a school more than I do, we just have to be mindful of all the aspects, from taxpayers to location to traffic issues, safety concerns . . . I want a majority of the county to feel good and have a piece about where we are putting the schools for the dollars that we are putting in.”

Hammond — who said during the meeting that he didn’t want the project to linger longer than 30 to 60 days — mentioned that he was getting text messages from people in the crowd during the meeting who wanted to know more about the 3.4 acres of floodplain land that would be included in the 56-acre property, which would make 52.6 acres of useable land. The county would need to purchase that part of the land in order to gain access to water and utilities for the site, according to architect Tony Street.

The total cost for the 56-acre property which has become known as the Williams property is  $1,875,00 or $33,482 per acre. However, the county would be paying $10,000 for the piece of land in a floodplain.

Many of the board members adamantly voiced their concerns before and after the 5-4 vote was taken. That included Mary Lo Silvers, who pleaded with the board before the vote to listen to the architect they hired to vet the site.

“We have been talking about this for months and years and Tony has always done an outstanding job; the kids at Boones Creek need a new school and they don’t need us to keep on arguing about it back-and-forth,” board member Mary Lo Silvers said. “Mr. Street has looked at so many properties and he says that this is the best one. Why can’t we take his advice?”

Earlier in the meeting, Silvers asked Street if the Williams property was the best site, he responded by saying “I would not say that this is the best piece of ground that I looked at, but it is the best piece of ground that I looked at that is for sale.”

That response was met with laughter, bringing a moment of unity to an otherwise divided room.

School board member Keith Ervin said that he did not like the site because it was too close to Jonesborough and he felt like the best site was building on the current Boones Creek Elementary site. Board member Phillip McLain didn’t mention whether he was in support of building on the current site, but he did say he was opposed to the Williams property.

“My comment is the same as before and the same as it always has been; I feel like this site is too far from the children that we serve in this school,” he said. “I feel like it is going to be totally surrounded by city subdivisions and I think there has to be a better site closer to the children that we serve in Boones Creek.”

The other two members that voted against the Williams property were Jack Leonard and Annette Buchanan.

Washington County Board of Education Chairman Todd Ganger was the first one to speak after Hammond announced his position and he was strong with his own stance.

“I will say, it’s time to do something now,” Ganger said. “Thirty more days is not going to resolve anything. This didn’t just come up this month or last month; it’s been going on for two or three years. If any concern is out there to be made, it’s been made by now. Putting this off 30 more days, that is cheating the Boones Creek community. This has not been a rushed thing.”

Street opened up his section of the meeting by presenting a building plan on the current Boones Creek Elementary property. He mentioned that county might be able to save close to $3 million — mostly from the purchase price of the land — if they decided to build on the land they already own. But building on the current Boones Creek Elementary property would put one wing of the school within 150 feet of Interstate 26, which sits just behind the school.

Also, building on the current property would leave no room for growth or an economic impact with new businesses and houses. Being landlocked was a problem that board member Clarence Mabe brought up, citing South Central Elementary, Gray and Lamar schools as examples of how the board could possibly limit the growth of a new school by setting it up with too little available acreage.

Also during the meeting Street presented a 25th site for the board to consider which is located on Boones Station Road, behind the Ridges subdivision. The 72-acres site is elongated in shape and the sanitary sewer would have to be upgraded. The total price of that piece of land is $2,289,600 or $31,800 per acre.

The board will meet again on August 2 — a date that was agreed upon instead of August 4, which is election day — and could vote on the site they like best.