By COLLIN BROOKS
The Washington County Joint Capital Projects Finance Committee had its initial meeting on Tuesday morning and the first order of business was electing a chairman of the committee, a position awarded to Washington County Board of Education member Annette Buchanan.
The group is comprised of four members from the Washington County Commission and four from the Washington County Board of Education. Along with Buchanan, BOE members Phillip McLain, Clarence Mabe and Mike Masters were elected to the commission. The county commission will be represented by Budget Committee Chairman Joe Grandy, Dr. Paul Stanton, Gary McAllister and Rick Storey. Masters and McAllister were absent from the meeting.
Committee members passed out their memorandum of understanding — with neither body taking action, because each side said they wanted to take it in front of their respective bodies for approval.
The agreement is intended to help each side understand what their specific roles will be going forward.
The joint committee implemented the idea of a “reverse” approach on how it will view submitted projects, an idea that was proposed at the end of the meeting by Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge.
“What if we do this in reverse? What if Mitch (Meredith) looks at the end and reverse engineers back to the starting point to see what we can actually afford to pay for the facilities and see what we can afford to do at the same time,” he said.
Committee members agreed to have Meredith put together numbers to see what the county can reasonably afford, but there was some concern voiced by Mabe.
“I fear that we are biting off so much that the Boones Creek will be put off another year,” he said. “I don’t want to dumb one down, just to do two more.”
Stanton agreed with Mabe, saying that this group shouldn’t be another level of bureaucracy but an added level of support, while also mentioning that there has probably never been a higher level of support from the commissioners when it comes to education. He also agreed with Mabe when he said that he hoped nothing would be done to harm the progress of the Boones Creek K-8 construction.
“We are on to good times; if we could just coordinate it so that we don’t slow down the process and if anything speed it up,” he said.
The Boones Creek school, whose final footprint will be designated during the school board’s called meeting on Thursday, Oct. 20, at 4 p.m., is still on the path for completion for the 2019 school year. In order for that to happen, the project would need to start no later than March 2017.
That was just one of the many projects from the Washington Way vision, which the BOE has recently adopted.
The first step of that plan is a new Boones Creek K-8, followed by a renovation and addition to Jonesborough Elementary in order to make it a consolidated K-8. The next step will be renovations to Jonesborough Middle School for conversion into an academic magnet school.
Washington County Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton said that the current Jonesborough Middle School could accommodate close to 450-500 students as a magnet school and even though it hasn’t been approved by any commission committee, she said in a perfect world she would like it to open in 2017. However, she said later said in the meeting that 2018 is another desired date.
Also mentioned in the meeting was the possibility of a career technical academy for the county. However, a priority list nor timetable for completion of the Washington Way was presented to the group.
The creation of the joint committee came out of the Washington County budget committee who had a desire to improve the communications between the funding body and the school board. That lack of communication was evident as the committee discussed the proposed Boones Creek K-8 footprint options presented by architect Tony Street during their last meeting. Eldridge said that Street and Washington County Highway Superintendent Johnny Deakins needed to be in constant conversation as the county plans to put in a new road to the school that would be accessed from Boones Creek road.
Another moment of disagreement came when the size of the school was discussed. Eldridge asked why the board wanted to build a school for 1,100 kids which would be “40 percent more than the current enrollment in Boones Creek,” he said.
Halliburton said that community excitement will draw in families and she wants to build the school for 50 years out.
“Where the school is being built is going to be very attractive for young families and I see enrollment doing nothing but going up at that school,” Halliburton said.
Halliburton also mentioned that she hoped that this committee will become a shining light for the entire state.
“I think that we can be a model of how to collaborate on this together and be proud as a community that these two bodies have worked together,” Halliburton said.
Eldridge said that is what he believes the community expects.
Washington County Board of Education Chairman Jack Leonard said that the main goal of the school board is to provide for the future needs of the students, but he said, “We can make suggestions but we can’t spend any money, the county commission is who has to spend or approve the money,” Leonard said. “We can come up with the plans and designs but the schools can’t get built unless we communicate and collaborate.”
Also sitting in on the meeting was Washington County Director of Finance Mitch Meredith. Meredith is expected to have figures for what the county can ultimately afford during the next committee meeting on Oct. 31 at 8:30 a.m. Then the group will be able to decipher what can really be built without putting too much debt on the county books.
He said finding those numbers, and the committee working within those numbers, is of utmost importance.
“This committee is really critical for how much of this stuff gets done as quickly as possible, because we have a finite amount of funds,” Mitch Meredith said. “That is why I think the committee is critical in that when we do Project X or Y that they are done as responsible, so that we might be able to spend that money on other projects.”