By MARINA WATERS
At the Washington County Board of Education’s Tuesday, Oct. 2, meeting, the board opted for a new design plan for the Jonesborough K-8 School project. But, after a year and a half of design plans and going back to an all-too-familiar drawing board, board members and officials are now less concerned with floor plans as they are the money available for the project.
“I’ve had a problem voting on any scheme because — and I don’t think I’m the only one who realizes this — but it seems the dollar amount we were told we had to work with kept changing,” said David Hammond, the school board member who served as the deciding vote in the BOE’s 5-4 decision to approve the Scheme 6 plan. “In the past, as much as $25 million has been mentioned. But right now, I’m hearing we’re lucky to have the $20,700,000. As far as I know, that money was earmarked so (if it’s not), the county commission would have to explain where that money went.”
The Scheme 6 plan includes renovations to the current Jonesborough Middle School building as well as additions to the left portion of the school. The plan was presented to the board in July, but the group voted the plan down at the August meeting in a 5-4 vote. However, this time around, Hammond was joined by Jason Day, Chad Fleenor, Todd Ganger and Mitch Meredith in voting for the plan. Board members Annette Buchanan, Mary Beth Dellinger, Keith Ervin and Phillip McLain were opposed.
In addition to heavy renovations such as enlarged classrooms and cafeteria, new plumbing and a new heating and cooling system, Tony Street, the project’s architect, said Scheme 6 is $31,000 under the project’s budget which was discussed to be $20.8 million.
But what is the actual budget for the project?
Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy said that is “still being worked out.”
Grandy said the $20.8 million amount was never allotted for the K-8 school project by the Washington County Commission. He also said the school board would need to consider the school system’s other capital project needs in addition to the Jonesborough School project.
“There’s probably no magic number (for the Jonesborough project),” Grandy said. “The funding that supports the Boones Creek School project and a Jonesborough project is no different today as it was when the board of education requested it back three years ago. It’s more complicated than just saying, ‘You’ve got $8 million, $10 million, $15 million for a specific project.’ That’s not the role of the county commission to really just put it in that type of language.
“The question is, do you want to take other capital project funds and eliminate them or move them to try to create more available funds for Jonesborough? It’s just a big picture view that we have to consider.”
The commission and the school board will join forces in a joint meeting on Monday, Oct. 29, to discuss school building and the school system’s capital improvement projects as well as the Jonesborough School. Grandy said he feels that meeting will give veteran and new commissioners and board members alike the opportunity to learn about that process while also allowing county officials to discuss the potential impact a Jonesborough School project with a $20 million dollar price tag could have.
“Having (the school board) put forward a $20 million project in Jonesborough gives us the opportunity to look at specific scenarios based on spending $20 million in Jonesborough and what impact that has on the rest of the school capital expenses,” Grandy said.
“We do have a lot of new players. All of those folks haven’t been brought up to speed on some of the critical information they need to make that right decision. My feeling is that we need to go through that process and be sure that everybody understands the best information we have currently. And then we can get this boat away from the dock a little bit.”
Though the mayor said finances are yet to be discussed for the project, he sees the latest development in the Jonesborough School design plan as a step in the right direction.
“There’s some potential in that Scheme 6,” Grandy said. “I hadn’t really studied it much in the past. But I’m not sure that something won’t come to fruition around that. There are a lot of things to get fixed and work out. There are a lot of moving parts. It is more money than we planned for that project, but it’s not impossible.”