By MARINA WATERS
Plans for the Washington County School District’s “Washington Way” facilities plan have been the talk of the county for a while — but talk of a different kind of plan to aid the projects are now being discussed by the Washington County Board of Education and the Washington County Commission.
Commissioner Tom Krieger proposed that the school district hire an outside source to conduct a school facilities study in order to assess population shifts, zoning considerations and other school district factors to gain comprehensive information for future facility projects.
Krieger also suggested that the study include analysis and suggestions regarding upcoming projects such as the academic magnet school and a career and technical facility as well as technology needs and existing school facility evaluations.
“We feel the need to move this ahead because we’re already starting to build that new school (Boones Creek School),” Krieger said at the county commission’s health education and welfare committee meeting on Thursday, Aug. 3. “We should be making plans in the system before we do any more brick and mortar.”
The Director of Schools, Kimber Halliburton said she felt a school facility study such as this would give the school district a sort of map of the best areas in which to build a school.
“It really told (Maury County) where not to build schools,” Halliburton explained. “Although they are a growing, growing community — I mean, they’re busting at the seams — there are pockets there that were just not enough of a population to warrant building a school.”
The director also expressed her thoughts on how she felt the study could save tax-payer dollars in the long run.
“Sometimes you don’t see (the amount of money saved) on a spreadsheet. For instance, they could say, ‘don’t build a school here’ when we might very well build a school there if we don’t have such a study,” Halliburton said. “We don’t know what’s going to come out of this. It could be a recommendation to merge two schools into one.
“I hesitate to say that, but I guess my point is that you don’t know what might come out of this that could really save us a significant amount of dollars.”
Zoning would be another focus in such a study. For Halliburton, who acknowledged how quickly the new Boones Creek School construction project seemed to be coming along, zoning is an area in which she, and the community, would like some insight.
“The sooner I get someone to start taking a look at zoning lines for that new school, the better. I’m getting a lot of comments from that Shadden neighborhood. A significant amount of residents from that neighborhood have approached me and said, ‘We’re not zoned for this new Boones Creek School and we’re right behind it.’ I think that’s something I want whoever this individual is to take a look at so that we can start informing parents who is actually going to be at Boones Creek. That’s not the whole purpose of this but that’s part of the piece.”
Meanwhile, Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge had concerns for the existing schools and maintaining those facilities through the future.
“You all have heard me say this: from my perspective, Washington County is out of the school-building business for at least a generation as soon as these two projects are finished, which means our entire focus needs to shift to our existing facilities we have and what it’s going to take to maintain them at the optimal level of functionality and long-term use,” Eldridge said. “I would hope that’s something that could come from this study.”
The most important piece of the facilities study discussion, however, focused on school safety and security features that could also be included in such a study.
“I’m the chairman of first district homeland security,” Eldridge said. “Unfortunately, from time to time, I have to go to Nashville and receive briefings on what the threats are.
“And that just keeps the hair on the back of my neck standing up. It makes me think about school security a lot because our schools are particularly vulnerable—and I’m not just talking about just Washington County—I’m talking about schools in general. They are soft targets.
“I would like for this study to really evaluate where we are in regard to assessing the threats and understanding the vulnerability of our facilities and our students are to the threats that are changing. That needs to be a part of what we’re doing here.”
The school district’s maintenance supervisor, Phillip Patrick, said the current plans for the Boones Creek School include all the safety features obtained by current Washington County Schools such as door locks, a buzz-in front entrance and a security camera system. Halliburton said a nearly bullet-proof type of glass will be used at Boones Creek.
Eldridge said he felt a separate look at safety features for the new Boones Creek School would need to be done apart from the school facility study. He also said he felt a school safety study would help provide feedback for the district’s current security measures.
“Maybe looking at this is a really good idea,” Eldridge said, “because that would give us an indication by looking at what has been designed and planned for Boones Creek. It’s going to give us a really good idea regarding the effectiveness of what’s already been done in all the other schools.”
The proposal will be discussed again with projected school facility study costs at next month’s HEW committee meeting on Sept. 7 at 1 p.m. in the historic courthouse in Jonesborough.