By LISA WHALEY
It was about a month ago that Bob Browning, current town administrator for the Town of Jonesborough, started to realize that a new challenge was coming to Tennessee’s oldest town.
“It appeared to me,” said Browning, who had been closely watching national and international news of the growing COVID-19 crisis, “that there comes a time and place in which you need to shift gears.”
This, he said, was that time.
“Things change really quickly,” Browning said. “Last weekend we ran (JRT’s) ‘Shrek’ at the theater. This week we are not.
“You try to do the best you can to do the right assessment.”
But in many ways, Browning believes, the current crisis is right within Jonesborough’s wheelhouse, already known as a town always ready to tackle the impossible and make it happen.
“We’ve never been afraid of doing something different,” he said. “We’ve never been afraid of plowing new ground on something.”
That means right now, Jonesborough is doing everything it can to keep town and staff as safe as possible.
Yet it also means continuing to use time and resources to prepare for beyond the pandemic.
“I have spent almost all of my time on information getting to our employees on how we can operate differently,” Browning said. “We’re doing the best we can to protect our employees and the citizens of Jonesborough and at the same time we’re providing essential services.
“We’re not shutting down; we’re just trying to be as careful as we can.”
Jonesborough is also not letting go of its future.
“Obviously, we have some really, really big projects that are going on and we’re not dropping those projects,” Browning said. “We’ve got some exciting things out there and we have no intention of not moving forward.”
Two of the most anticipated projects are the future city park behind the current Jonesborough Senior Center, as well as the downtown Jackson Theatre.
While the town is unable to utilize inmate labor at this time, Browning said, they shifted to adapt and are moving construction projects ahead in areas where they can be done safely.
Buildings and serves like the McKinney Center are using down time to plan and prepare for the upcoming year.
Even in the midst of current concerns, Browning said, he can’t help but continue to get a thrill as he sees his town continue to reach for the stars.
“How could you not be proud of facilities like we have,” he said. “At the McKinney Center, we’ve had to suspend classes, but at the same time we’re using that time, with our staff is working on budget and working on the future.
“We’re going to use that time to develop a really strong program.”
As for the Jackson Theatre, which may be looking at a fall 2021 opening date, Browning believes it too will become a strong member of the Jonesborough community.
While it will maintain a theater component, it has never been intended as simply a Jonesborough Repertory state.
“Our intention is to have acts open to the public four or five days a week,” Browning said. The theater may feature independent films, storytelling, comedies, dramas and more.
The new Jackson Theatre may even play a role with not only the newly proposed Jonesborough school, but also as a resource for so many more local school children.
It’s all about quality of life, Browning said. And Jonesborough will continue to look for ways to improve it, despite the challenges.
“Our nature has always been to do good planning and looking in advance,” he said. “The good thing is that people seem to be paying attention to our situation. I think that’s the critical issue. We have to pay attention.”