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New Jonesborough school back in the picture with ‘Washington Way’ vision

educationBy COLLIN BROOKS

Staff Writer

[email protected]

A new K-8 school in Jonesborough may be closer to becoming a reality after the Washington County Board of Education voted 8-1 for a site conversion for the current Jonesborough Elementary school.

Early discussions have centered on building and adding a structure of 80,000 to 100,000 square feet directly beside the current elementary school, latching it onto the newer sections that were built in the early 1980s and early 1990s. After that piece of the school is finished, then the older, round part of the school would be demolished. The McCoy property, which sits adjacent to the ‘80s and ‘90s construction of Jonesborough Elementary, was presented by Tony Street as a location for the new construction and is currently priced at $775,000 for the 15.5 acre parcel just behind Pal’s.

A document that Washington County Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton presented to the Washington County Budget Committee on Wednesday morning.
A document that Washington County Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton presented to the Washington County Budget Committee on Wednesday morning.

While the BOE did pass the resolution in support of a new Jonesborough, it must now be acted on by the Washington County Health, Education and Welfare committee and then passed by the Washington County Budget Committee, before it can be considered by the full commission.

Tony Street, the school system’s architect, presented preliminary cost estimates for the site conversion which totaled $33 million.

That is just one part of the grand vision that Washington County Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton has defined under her and the board of education’s vision for the school system, entitled the Washington Way. The main point of her plan is that it  “will provide more parental choice and more student opportunities,” Halliburton said.

The first parts of her plan include building a new Jonesborough K-8 and Boones Creek K-8; Each will be technology demonstration schools. The next phase would be turning the Jonesborough Middle School building into what has been described as an academic high school magnet. The criteria has not yet been set, but it would require high academic scores, two teacher recommendations and a principal recommendation to be eligible for admission. Approved students would then be selected through lottery.

“This has the potential to draw in all kinds of students from surrounding counties,” Halliburton said. “People will want to move to the county for the opportunity to attend this school.”

The Boones Creek Elementary school would then be turned into a career and technical academy or a “career path school,” as Haliburton described it. She said it will involve “opportunities like welding, where you have your certification right when you get out of school and that is your career path.”

Located directly across the street from the Johnson City Power Board and right off of Interstate 26, the academy would provide students with ample opportunities to learn traits and skills due to its proximity to businesses.

Halliburton envisions a school with large bays to work on cars and even the county’s school buses. The school could also have businesses with storefronts that are connected to the school and entrances that are secured into the actual school structure. That would allow for real-world internships,  provided by possible businesses who would support the partnership as part of their lease agreement.

According to Washington County Director of Finance Mitch Meredith, the vision of a new Boones Creek K-8, the remodeling of Jonesborough Middle for a magnet academy and a CTE Academy, would cost the county approximately $83 million in new construction over a 5-year period. Some of that construction could be funded with cash from the Capital Projects fund — which was funded by $0.32 of the $0.40 tax increase in June — but $95 million of new debt would be needed to fund the remaining construction costs and provide Johnson City with their equivalent share of the debt proceeds.

The Health, Education and Welfare Committee heard Halliburton’s vision for the school system, but took no action during their meeting on Wednesday, August 3.

Her new vision is driven by the opportunity to give parents more options and students more opportunities, she said. With so much of the vision depending on funding, Halliburton and the board of education were unable to provide a detailed timeline for these projects to be completed.

However, the first step will be a new Boones Creek school, which is expected to be voted on during the board of education’s specially called meeting on Wednesday, August 10.