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Balance of preservation, renovation needed for McKinney Arts Center

With a list of at least four potential projects that could each require some kind of property tax hike to complete, Jonesborough officials are turning to town residents to prioritize the town’s needs.
At meetings in recent months, members of the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen listed a handful of projects for town residents to consider. The BMA even refrained from setting a property tax rate until the end of August to allow for analysis of the proposed projects.
Currently, the town’s property tax rate sits at $1.18. A one cent increase, according to Town Recorder Abbey Miller, would add an additional $13,000 to the town coffers annually.
Projects proposed by town leaders include the construction of a new senior center, the renovation of the McKinney Arts Center at Booker T. Washington School, the construction of a new city garage complex and the purchase of the old Jackson Theater in downtown.
A public meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 23, at 6:30 p.m. at the Visitors Center for town residents to voice their opinions on the projects.
“Everyone on our board is very aware of just how tough things are these days. I have spoken with lots of folks who are concerned about a potential tax increase,” Mayor Kelly Wolfe said. “This board is going to, as we always do, look at every option available before a decision is made regarding these projects. We have been, and will continue to be, good stewards of the taxpayers’ money.”
Still, Wolfe believes there is no way to proceed with the proposed projects without some kind of additional revenue.
“So the question becomes whether we proceed on any of these projects,” Wolfe said.
In an attempt to further inform its readers, the Herald & Tribune will spend the weeks leading up to the Aug. 23 public meeting looking deeper into each of the four proposed projects. In the first installment of the series, we looked at the construction of a new senior center. This week, we look at the renovation of the McKinney Arts Center at Booker T. Washington School.

A unique balance of preservation and renovation will soon take center stage if town leaders decide now is the time to complete the McKinney Arts Center at Booker T. Washington School.
“This facility certainly has appeal to folks who have lived here all their lives or went to school at the Booker T. School,” said Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe. “We have worked diligently to acquire the building because we believe it has very exciting potential.”
Town leaders have visions of turning the former school, which served African-American children of the area during the time of segregation, into a cultural arts center that will offer space for a variety of different functions.
In addition to capturing the history of the once-segregated facility, the center would provide a place for art programs, performances, story gathering and more.
Initial cost estimates to complete the project were around $900,000.
“That was very preliminary,” said Bob Browning, town administrator. “And that included bidding out most of the work.”
A revised estimate that puts town employees in charge of most of the manual labor lowered the cost to $700,000.
By working to preserve rather than replace many parts of the building, including some interior walls and the old gym floor, the cost of the project seems to have dropped even more.
“Realistically, I think we’re probably talking about $500,000 to $600,000,” Browning said. “It has evolved into a simpler project through the preservation aspect of things.”
Some things, however, will have to be replaced, including the roof, which will cost approximately $14,000.
Town leaders are also planning for an addition to the building that includes bathrooms, a catering kitchen, storage space and an electrical room.
While not as costly as the proposed senior center project, which is expected to cost somewhere around $2 million, the renovation of the old school would likely require some kind of property tax increase.
“I believe for us to tackle this project in any reasonable time, it would require some additional revenue,” Wolfe said. “Of course, it would not be as much if we did a large portion of the project ourselves.”
While much of the renovating could be done on a longer-term basis if so decided, the installation of a geothermal heating and cooling system will need to be done immediately.
The town received a $100,000 energy efficiency grant to do the geothermal portion of the project, but will lose that funding if the work is not completed by the end of October.
“Between the $100,000 grant and the prospective long-term savings, it’s certainly worth us moving ahead with at least this portion of the project so we don’t lose the savings,” Wolfe said.
According to Browning, a cost analysis of the geothermal system compared to an HVAC system indicated the geothermal project was well worth the money.
The geothermal project will cost approximately $200,000 to complete, with half coming from the grant, while the HVAC system would cost approximately $120,000 to install, Browning said.
“With the grant, you are already coming out ahead on the geothermal system,” he noted. “Then you’ve got the long-term savings of using the energy efficient system. It’s just something we need to do.”
Town leaders will look to the public at the Aug. 23 meeting for further input on the McKinney Arts Center project and where it stands as far as priorities go for taxpayers.
Wolfe said he believes the McKinney Arts Center will bring people to Jonesborough as well as “play a big role in attracting new companies” to this part of Washington County.
“Obviously a project like this is part of a grander vision for the town, both culturally and in terms of economic development and tourism,” Wolfe said. “Part of what makes Jonesborough so special is all of the exciting things we offer that you normally don’t see in a town of 5,000 people.”