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County to consider school design fees, property extension

The plan above is for the yet-to-be-approved Scheme 6.

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

[email protected]

The Jonesborough School project is still stuck in the design phase, but Washington County is ready to move ahead in paying the architect for that phase of the project.

The budget committee unanimously approved a resolution from the Health Education and Welfare committee to approve setting forth $50,000 from the capital projects encumbrance account. The amount would be added to the $100,000 that was budgeted and paid for by the commission to pay the architect.

During the county’s Health, Education and Welfare Committee meeting on Thursday Nov. 29, Finance director Mitch Meredith said in 2017, the county agreed to pay the architectural and engineering fees as each phase of the project occurred. However, the state’s auditors are requiring that the county set aside $900,000 for the architectural and engineering fees, Meredith said.

“Because we signed the contract, our auditors say, ‘you have to encumber and reserve those funds.’ We kind of took a different position and said, ‘as we move from phase one to phase two to phase three, as we approve those, we’ll do that,’” Meredith said. “Our auditors have said, ‘you need to encumber that entire contract.’ They have actually put an additional $900,000 expense in our (Fiscal Year 2018) financials.”

Street has drafted eight design plans for the school project that is yet to be built. The school board saw multiple schemes throughout the past year and voted three of those to the HEW Committee, two of which were voted down by the committee, one of which is yet to be voted upon by commissioners.

Those haven’t been the only hold ups.

The county is yet to purchase the property next to the current Jonesborough middle and elementary schools after opting to enter a purchasing agreement between the property owner, Joe McCoy, and former Mayor Dan Eldridge in January of 2017. The budget committee passed a proposal from the HEW Committee to extend that purchase option for 90 days for what would be the seventh time.

This comes after a year of extensions due to restrictions set on the property by neighboring business Lowe’s Home Improvement and the former mayor asking the commission to again approve the purchase agreement due to “a lack of direction from the school board.” The option for the 15.5 acres is set not to exceed $777,900.

Commissioner Jim Wheeler suggested that the county and Jonesborough mayors send letters to Lowe’s asking that they lift the restrictions from the property. County Paralegal Teresa Stoots said that had already been done.

Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy added that the restrictions, which include permission for neighboring business Lowe’s Home Improvement to view and approve building design and construction on the property, have been on the property “since the beginning” of the Jonesborough School discussion. He also said he felt the property restrictions had to be figured out before a design plan for the Jonesborough School could be set in motion.

“It’s a known fact that we’ve got to deal with (lifting the restrictions) before we can actually buy the property,” Grandy said. “It wouldn’t make any sense at all to buy property and do construction on it, particularly allowing some former owner of it to come back later and after improvements have been made to it, judge whether they’re acceptable or not.

“There’s no way we would invest millions of dollars even in a road on that piece of property with someone having the ability to say, ‘No we don’t like this road. Put it back like it was.’ That’s just not something I would ever support.”

The commission will consider the architectural and engineering fees resolution along with the property purchase option extension at its next meeting on Monday, Dec. 17 at 6 p.m. at the justice center in Jonesborough.