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‘Washington Way’ dream hits a snag

boones-creek-map-2By COLLIN BROOKS
Staff Writer
[email protected]
The path for the Washington Way is not as clear as it was once thought to be, but the new Boones Creek K-8 future appears certain.
Washington County Director of Finance Mitch Meredith presented three different scenarios during the joint gathering of the Washington County Board of Education and the Health, Education and Welfare Committee in an almost four-hour meeting on Thursday, Nov. 17. His numbers showed that the county has a finite amount of money to spend in order to complete the projects that the BOE has adopted.
The basis of the money includes 24 pennies per year — from the 40-cent Washington County property tax raise over the summer — which amounts to $6,789,804 of new dollars for capital projects. However, just over two pennies will be subtracted from that for new technology, which means that new schools and other school capital projects that make up the Washington Way will have under 22 pennies per year or about $6,223,976.
The BOE was able to decide on the main priority for the system, which is a new Boones Creek K-8. A more in-depth architect’s rendering, detailing the classroom map for the Boones Creek K-8 was approved. That will allow them to move forward on the project, with the next step being to find a construction manager.
A reluctant vote was called at the end of the meeting to prioritize the list from the Washington Way projects, with Boones Creek emerging as the top priority, followed by infusing the entire system with technology.
A new build-on to make Jonesborough Elementary K-8 and a creation of a magnet academy at the current Jonesborough Middle were determined to be third.
A proposed Career Technical Academy was not factored into the list of priorities, as the presentation from Meredith proved it may not be feasible in the near future.
If the county wanted to “max out the credit cards,” as Meredith put it, they could fund $101 million worth of projects, with Johnson City receiving just over $47 million of that for the mandated sharing with schools.
The first of three scenarios presented by Meredith was the final version adopted by the county commission. Its two projects for the school system were among the 11 items voted on by the county commission in the summer — during Washington County Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton’s first month. Those two projects include a new Boones Creek K-8 and renovations to both Jonesborough Schools.
The two projects were set to cost just over $40 million, with 13 of the 20-plus pennies being set to go to the debt service of the projects. That means the county would be forced to borrow over $54 million in order to give the city their share, a plan that would also leave the school board with $14 million for other projects from 2020-2026.
The second scenario was the Washington Way plan, which the school board has adopted. However, that plan didn’t appear feasible, costing over $86 million and after giving Johnson City its share, it would mean the county would borrow over $120 million, which is well over their debt limit.
“The second scenario probably isn’t doable, because I don’t think you are going to find 13 people to raise the tax rate again,” Meredith said.
The Washington Way option accounted for a new Boones Creek K-8 ($30 million), a technical academy at Boones Creek Elementary School ($7.9 million), an addition to make Jonesborough Elementary into a K-8 ($23 million) and converting Jonesborough Middle into an academic magnet school ($8.7 million).
The final scenario was a modified Washington Way, which did not include a CTE academy at Boones Creek Elementary. It also included a price of just $25.6 million for the new Boones Creek K-8, which may not be a realistic number, according to architect Tony Street.
However, that plan did allow the county to borrow $70 million dollars and, after giving Johnson City’s schools their portion, would leave them $8 million at their disposal from 2020-2026.
While the route to getting the Washington Way is being debated, the reasons the school system is trying to attain that goal is evident.
“We are really being aggressive and thinking forward, trying to be ahead of the curve, before someone else tries to do so,” BOE Chairman Jack Leonard said.
The magnet school and the technology demonstration schools would be the first of their kind in the region, which is an exciting prospect to both Washington County Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton and Leonard.
Being ahead of that curve might also be enough to lure prospective students from other areas into the Washington County system.
“Every time you are bringing a student in from somewhere else, they are bringing with them $8-10,000 in BEP funding,” Leonard said. “So that is more money for our system.”
The county commission has already approved $9 million for the renovation of the middle school, and while hard figures aren’t yet available, adding a new portion to the current Jonesborough Elementary School to make it a K-8 and converting the Jonesborough Middle School into a magnet school have been estimated to cost around $15 million.
The BOE is expected to have another called meeting to work the Washington Way projects into their five-year plan, after their normally scheduled meeting on Dec. 1. The board moved forward a proposal from Street about eight soil borings at the McCoy Property — the proposed site for the addition to Jonesborough — which cost $6,280. Results are expected to be back to the board in about a month.