By MARINA WATERS
While the future of some upgrades in the Washington County School system are hazy, the Washington County Board of Education set out to make sure that two of the system’s facility needs are met almost immediately.
At the BOE’s called meeting on Monday, Nov. 26, the board approved two motions to utilize approximately $230,000 from the school system’s fund balance for two sets of school system maintenance requests: one to replace food service’s hot wells, or equipment that keeps a school’s cafeteria food warm, and another to replace the David Crockett High School softball field’s lights.
Board member Phillip McLain’s motion for food service’s new drop-in hot wells not to exceed $80,000 passed with a 8-1 vote (board member Chad Fleenor was opposed). For McLain, the new equipment provides a “necessity” for the system.
“Taking care of our cafeteria staff to feed these kids — that may be the only hot meal these kids get in a whole week,” McLain said. “We need to take care of our kids so we need to do this. We need to get it done ASAP.”
In addition to broken dishwashers, ovens and freezers throughout the school system, Caitlin Shew, the system’s director of school nutrition, said the hot wells are essential to feeding a school’s students a warm meal each day.
“It was really hard to prioritize this list,” Shew told the board at the meeting. “They can’t even use those (broken) wells and if so many of them go down, you can’t run the line.”
The board chose to check the top need off of Shew’s list, followed by another school system issue, the softball lights at Crockett.
The board passed a $150,000 request for the softball field lights onto the county’s Health Education and Welfare committee in August, but the request was voted down by commissioners.
The lights currently contain mercury vapor lamps, which the system’s maintenance director, Phillip Patrick, said were put together by the Jonesborough Little League and are over 20 years old.
Board member Todd Ganger made the motion for new lights which resulted in a 7-2 vote (board members Chad Fleenor and Keith Ervin were opposed). For Ganger, the poor lighting at the field, which he said has kept the team from scheduling night games, has become a safety concern.
“What they have right now is unsafe,” Ganger said. “There are some other issues that go along with that. But we need to fix it. The board needs to be proactive. They’re having trouble finding bulbs for them when the lights do go out. Before the end of this budget year, I’d like to see us do that. Even if it’s the end of the next softball season. We need to get that done. It’s been long overdue. It’s an embarrassment for those girls.”
In August, the commission discussed the possibility of the need for lights at the softball field becoming a Title IX issue, which is a civil rights law that requires both male and females are given equal opportunities for equipment and supplies. Washington County Director of Schools Bill Flanary said the school board’s attorney advised the board that the lights are “probably not a Title IX issue” and that it is more of a “safety issue.”
Lights and food service equipment weren’t the only proposed needs discussed. Flanary requested that the board come up with a “priority list” that the director could take back to the HEW Committee listing the maintenance projects the board feels should first be addressed.
“We have fallen in the habit of so many pennies for buses, so many pennies for technology, so many for capital improvements,” Flanary said. “They are asking now that the school board put every thing into a single priority list. I would like to go back to HEW with a one-year priority list.”
Flanary recommended that the board top the list with buses, followed by technology, which would both be reoccurring requests. That list included the Jonesborough School project as the next priority. Board members said they would like to see the project either get a stamp of approval from the commission regarding the latest design plan or new roofs for the elementary and middle school buildings.
The board also came up with another list; Flanary said the county’s Commerce, Industry and Agriculture Committee asked that the board decide what athletic facilities should be constructed on the 37 acres behind the upcoming Boones Creek School on Boones Creek Road.
The board voted in favor of recommending a football field with a track around it, a softball field and a baseball field. The motion included a request that any future concession stands, restrooms and bleachers be discussed with the board. Board members agreed they wanted what is currently at the Boones Creek Middle and Elementary Schools at the new school site.
“Speaking as a parent from Boones Creek Middle,” Board member David Hammond said, “that’s all we’re asking for.”
Though the idea is that the fields would be utilized for school use, the county owns the property on which the athletic facilities would be constructed, thus making the project a county project. When it comes to ownership and decision making for the site, Ganger said that’s where trust in the commission must come into play.
“Right now we’re trusting they’re going to do this for us,” Ganger said. “Now we’re putting it in their court. We have to have a trust thing going. I trust that they’re going to come back to us (with a plan).”
The CIA Committee is slated to meet with the architect for that project at its Thursday, Nov. 29, meeting at 9 a.m. at the courthouse in Downtown Jonesborough. The HEW Committee will also meet on Nov. 29 at 1 p.m. at the courthouse and will discuss various school-related items.