By MARINA WATERS
If you thought all the pieces of the upcoming Jonesborough K-8 project puzzle were on the table, it might be time to invest in a bigger table.
The Washington County Board of Education has opted for a town hall meeting at Jonesborough Middle School to allow the community to ask questions and voice opinions to board members and county commissioners in regards to the future design plans for the Jonesborough K-8 construction project.
The meeting is currently scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 25, at 6 p.m. at Jonesborough Middle School located at 308 Forest Drive, Jonesborough.
Board member David Hammond, who made the motion at the board’s Jan. 4 meeting, said the main goal of the upcoming town hall meeting is to hear from the community and to bring everyone together.
“The last few weeks, I feel like there’s been an air in the community where it’s the board against the commission and the commission against the board and the parents against the board or commission,” Hammond said. “I think this is a way for everyone to sit down and discuss it in an informal setting — not be lectured to or talked down to — but for everyone to just come and realize we’re all working for the same goal.”
The decision for the community meeting came after the board chose “Scheme 2,” a design plan that is $5,652,000 over the project’s budget and involves tearing down the round portion of Jonesborough Elementary School and renovating other existing parts of the school. The Washington County Commission’s Health Education and Welfare Committee then voted the plan down just hours before the Washington County Board of Education met on Jan. 4.
There was another previous option, dubbed “Scheme 3”, which involved renovating and adding onto the current Jonesborough Middle School building. This plan comes in at $31,000 under the $17,560,000 budget approved by the county commission.
Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge, who was present for the committee’s decision to deny the motion for scheme two, said from the county commission’s perspective, the Jonesborough Middle School site is the most plausible option for the project.
“(Scheme 3) is viable from the one perspective that the county commission has a say in and that’s the budget,” Eldridge said. “Scheme 3 is within budget. Scheme 2 is 30 percent over budget.”
County officials are also considering the option to delay the project to allow cash to accumulate in the capital projects fund. However, increased interest rates and construction costs remain a concern for the board in delaying the project. Street also said at the board’s December meeting that if the project decision was postponed for even three months, the school opening would be pushed back one year to 2021.
Hammond also weighed the conditions at Jonesborough Elementary School as a factor in the option to wait on the project.
“Jonesborough Elementary is going to be in need of a new roof soon. The HVAC system or the chiller system could go at any time. If we wait, we could be in a position where we’ll have to put a million or so dollars in the school while we’re waiting,” Hammond said. “That’s money I would like to see go towards the new Jonesborough School.”
Hammond said in his mind, no option is off the table just yet. Until the board comes to a decision, Hammond wants to keep the community involved.
“This is a community school. This community’s going to be here long after my time is up on the board and long after the county mayor and the commissioners serve their terms,” Hammond said. “They (the community) are the ones left to deal with what we do. That’s why I want the community involved.”
For the county mayor, his concern remains in the timeliness of the town hall meeting and expectations that it could bring to the community.
“One thing that concerns me is that if the school board is wanting to get public input, they’re really late in this process,” Eldridge said. “Bringing the parents in and asking them for their input at this point — I just caution everyone to understand that there is no more money. I’m concerned about the county school board setting expectations with these parents that something more can be done when in reality there is no money to pay for it.”