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Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe questions if renovations for elementary and middle school will be enough

The entrance of Jonesborough Elementary School is considered to be a safety concern by Principal Brandon McKee.
The entrance of Jonesborough Elementary School is considered to be a safety concern by Principal Brandon McKee.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article marks the third and final installment in a series targeting Washington County’s most recent new school challenges.

By COLLIN BROOKS

Staff Writer

[email protected]

“What we see gives us our most in-tune definition of what we need.”

Even if the Jonesborough schools aren’t in dire shape, they are far from perfect, according to Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe. That is one of the many reasons that Wolfe says there is a need for a new school in Jonesborough, which holds the largest K-8 population in the Washington County School System.

“Perception is reality when it comes to schools,” Wolfe told the Herald and Tribune. “If people perceive the building to be old, if they perceive the facilities to be lacking, then the perception follows that their kid is not getting the best education that they could get at that school. Whether it is true or not, it’s a fact of reality that perception dictates a lot of the degree in which parents see their kids getting a good education.

“It’s not coincidental that Ridgeview is one of the best performing schools in the county. It’s not coincidental that you see a lot of Jonesborough parents, residing in Jonesborough, driving their kids to Grandview, and that’s unfortunate. It doesn’t need to be that way and the Jonesborough school certainly doesn’t deserve that. But it is a reality.”

The two Jonesborough schools – the elementary which was built in 1971 and the middle school which was built in 1950 – make up the largest pupil population of K-8’s in the Washington County School System with around 1,000 students combined. Boones Creek is just behind that.

However, Boones Creek and Jonesborough are the only K-8’s in the school district that have separate campuses for their elementary and middle schools.

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The Washington County Department of Education has presented documents to the Washington County Board of Education and the Washington County Commission estimating close to $8 million, with $4 million going toward the elementary school and $3.7 million going to to middle school, according to paperwork labeled March 18, 2015.

The close to $8 million should give the schools another 10-15 years of significant life, but it won’t do anything for growth, according to Washington County Director of Schools Ron Dykes.

“Jonesborough Elementary is running at 100 percent capacity right now and appears to be growing,” Dykes said. “That is why it is so crucial that once the Boones Creek project is completed, that some serious rezoning of all schools is done to give Jonesborough some relief, if they intend to renovate it and not expand it.”

The biggest amount of the renovation budget in the plans goes to putting in 16-foot walls to divide the classrooms in the round part of the elementary school. Those “extensive renovations,” as they are termed on the documents, will come in at $1.86 million, but the renovations could force the school to lose up to three classrooms, according to Dykes.

The next biggest and extensive issue is roofing at the elementary school that leaks anytime a heavy rain hits. To reroof the school will cost $878,000 and that must be done during this school year as the roof is eight years past due, according to Dykes.

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While there aren’t as many structural issues at the middle school, there are still items that need immediate attention, according to Principal Brandon McKee. One includes a sewer odor that can overpower parts of the school on certain days.

“Our biggest thing is the odor; we have a sewer odor that comes anytime that it rains hard,” McKee said. “Or sometimes it will just randomly happen and it is really bad in the locker rooms.”

The smell has been so bad at times that the band class hasn’t been able to hold their class in their assigned room. Last year that smell travelled all the way to the cafeteria bathroom.

A new music room and art room are in the renovation plans, which would add 2,325 square feet onto the building and renovate an existing 700 square feet. That will come at a cost of $410,000.

Other renovations that are proposed to be done are re-roofing ($480,000), new lockers ($210,000), updating the sprinkler system ($270,000) and updating the electrical system for 21st century needs ($270,000).

Spending that type of money has McKee worried whether the renovations will be worth it.

“Looking at two buildings that are older,” McKee said. “You can make renovations all you want, but looking at the future, if you are going to spend all this money now, to renovate buildings that are outdated… with all that money, you might as well build a new school.”

Another issue that McKee worries about is the fact that whenever someone enters the school, they have the option of stopping by the office, instead of being forced to check in.

“We need an entrance way where you have to go through the office and then into the school building. We have no way of doing that right now, just for the students safety,” McKee said.

That is addressed in the renovations, along with a pick-up and drop-off area in the front, for buses, and back, for car riders.

Traffic congestion is an issue that the two schools share, as anyone that wants to get to the elementary school must enter and exit just beside the middle school.

“The traffic jam is awful in the mornings and the afternoons,” McKee said. “It’s not safe, it’s just not. You’ve got cars that come through here and they just use it as a driveway in order to miss the red light, and they’ll go pretty fast.”

A new traffic pattern was pulled from the overall plan by Commissioner Joe Grandy, but it lost traction in the Washington County Commission as talks of a new school began to resurface.  But even speed bumps would be nice, McKee said, until things are figured out.

“We have cars that speed through here, even with their children,” McKee said.

With the numerous problems, Wolfe isn’t sure that renovations are the answer.

“I have toured the Jonesborough schools. I went to the elementary school,” Wolfe said. “And much like the Boones Creek schools, there is a need there and it is very apparent when you walk in the door. The great teachers, students and parents involved in that school deserve the same opportunities as the kids in other communities in Washington County have gotten in recent years. And we will continue to advocate for that to happen.”

MORE PICTURES FROM INSIDE JONESBOROUGH MIDDLE SCHOOL