By MARINA WATERS
Members of Washington County’s Health, Education and Welfare Committee had a newly drafted five-year capital improvement plan to study at the committee’s meeting on Thursday, Aug. 9. The plan was passed to the county’s next budget committee meeting for consideration, but out of the list of school system building maintenance upgrades, two were confirmed to be in the works as far as county funding is concerned.
Partial pay for the upcoming Boones Creek School project was confirmed by county officials to be underway, as was the re-roofing project at South Central Elementary School — sort of.
That project, as listed in the updated five-year plan, is estimated to cost the county $670,000. However, the county allocated money for the project’s previous cost, which is $110,000 short of the updated estimate.
While Interim Director of Schools for Washington County Bill Flanary asked that the $110,000 be added to the project’s allotted amount, he was informed that the county budget does not include two other, rather large items — $640,000 for technology and $824,537 for school buses.
“The Washington County budget for fiscal 19 capital project was developed with absolutely no mention of what the school system’s needs were — is that a fair statement?” Flanary said. “You said it wasn’t a part of your budget.
“We’re talking about over $2 million that the school board thought was in place that you said just isn’t there.”
Eldridge said that it was not a fair statement.
He said the county allotted two year’s worth of funds in the fiscal year 2018 budget for school buses, which is expected to cover 16 buses. Flanary said he and the central office staff would go back to get a concrete number of how many buses have been purchased and how many more are needed.
As for technology, Eldridge said a request was put in for technology funds, but that uncertainty from the budget committee on the direction in which the school board was headed served as a hold up on the funds.
“The budget committee did not budget that money because of the uncertainty of what was going on with the school board,” Eldridge said. “At the same time, the school board asked for three quarters of a million dollars for textbooks. The question was asked, ‘Are we going to technology or are we going back to text books?’ We need clarification on that. If we’re going forward on technology, that’s great. I absolutely support that.”
In April, the school system requested $751,000 for textbooks as a part of what school board members called the system’s “wish list.” During budget season, Director of Materials Susan Kiernan said the request was put in for science textbooks, which included new science standards, as well as math textbooks which were requested from the high schools.
Eldridge said the only money that has not been committed that could potentially cover some of the costs are funds set aside for the courthouse renovation. Approximately $2.2 million is planned to replace the roof, repave the surrounding area, replace the gutters and HVAC system at Jonesborough’s Historic Courthouse. Eldridge said those contracts are yet to be rewarded, but that could soon change.
There were other items that are not included in the county’s budget and did not get the go-ahead from the HEW Committee: The Gray Elementary School brick repair project was left off, as was replacing the softball field’s lights at David Crockett High School.
The school system’s maintenance supervisor, Phillip Patrick, presented the request to re-brick Gray Elementary School back in April, but the committee asked that Patrick check for the most cost-efficient option for the project. The previous five-year plan listed the project at $300,000, while Patrick said at the April meeting that a more recent estimate called for $575,000 for the project.
The school system had also recently asked for funds to replace the lights Crockett’s softball field, which was estimated at $150,000 on the school system’s updated five-year maintenance plan.
“If you can help with it, we appreciate it. If you can’t, you can’t,” Flanary said. “We just won’t play at night. The current lights are just not sufficient. More importantly, the boys baseball field is well-lit.”
Commissioner Suzy Williams added that not replacing the lights at the Lady Pioneers’ softball field raised a question of equality in male and female sports and was “a neglect to the girls portion of athletics.”
Eldridge suggested the five-year plan go on to the budget committee this month so it could be considered in light of the money earmarked for courthouse renovations.
“From my perspective, we’re going to have to consider the priorities of the school system capital needs along with the priorities of the capital needs of this building and come to an agreement to what we’re willing to do this year and what can be put off,” Eldridge said. “They have to be considered together. I do not want to go to the commission this month asking for this $2.2 million (for the courthouse) knowing we’ve got (school funding requests) hanging out there.”
School officials said they would bring updated information related to technology, school buses and the South Central roofing project to be discussed at the budget committee meeting. That meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 15, at 9 a.m. in the first floor conference room of the courthouse, located at 100 E Main St., Jonesborough.