By JOHN KIENER
Look for progress on three major projects by the Town of Jonesborough in 2018 – the moving of the maintenance garage and at its location, the development of a community park along with substantial work on the Jackson Theatre complex.
Operations Manager Craig Ford expects work on moving the garage will begin soon. The garage is scheduled to be moved to a location on the town’s 19-acre Rosenbaum property, situated on Old State Route 34. Aldermen voted in January to proceed with the $750,000 project to build a new facility to provide maintenance of the town’s 236 vehicles. The funding also appropriates about $250,000 for a separate wastewater building, as the current town garage on North Lincoln Avenue houses water distribution, meters and street department operations.
The garage, which is almost 40 years old, is not considered adequate to house all the town’s vehicles and other operations. In addition, the move locates the facility out of a residential area. The new garage should be completed rapidly after a pad is laid down for the building site. Ford said, “We will be ordering a pre-fabricated building after the grading work is completed.” The town may also look at possibly developing a dog park at the new maintenance garage location.
“We’ve got a drainage project on Franklin Avenue and the completion of a turning lane near the new Dollar Tree to finish,” said Ford before work on the garage and park project can get underway. The Operations Manager is also waiting for the ground to dry so that construction equipment can begin work at the site. Other town infra-structure up-grades will include the replacement of cast iron water pipes along East Main Street.
A park will then be developed at the former garage site located behind the Senior Center. The proposed park would have a community garden, a walking trail, an area that could be utilized as an amphitheater, a meditation garden, garden plots and space to play badminton, horseshoes, shuffleboard and a Pickle Court.
Ford said the Jackson Theatre is a two-year project scheduled for work in three stages: 1. the area designated the stage door; 2. interior work in the theater including an addition to the back of the building, and 3. remodeling of the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre.
Currently, work is underway to remove three stairwells from the area that will become the stage door. “All the work won’t be completed in 2018,” Ford said. “After the interior of the theatre is cleaned out, we will have to bid a contract for steel work on the exterior walls. The building has good bones.”
Newly appointed Mayor Chuck Vest wants to see the three projects listed in the preceding paragraphs moving toward completion in 2018 along with further development of Persimmon Ridge Park. The park described as “Jonesborough’s flagship green space” contains 130 acres of biking and hiking trails, the Lost State Scenic Walkway, baseball fields, a basketball court, a playground for children of all ages and a family-friendly water park. There is also a popular 18-hole disc golf course at the site located a mile from downtown.
“There is such beauty in the trails at the park,” Vest said. He looks to additional development of picnic and hiking trails along with softball fields.” He added, “I think that development of a camp ground at the park is on hold.”
Mayor Vest emphasized fiscal responsibility in town government indicating that the completion of the three major projects should be finished before taking on additional work. “I’m going to look at rolling back the tax rate when work on the town’s budget gets underway.”
“We need to take care of town employees,” the Mayor said. “Our pay is generally where it needs to be but there are workers especially in the lower pay scales that need raises.” Vest wants to continue to lower the rate of turnover among town employees. “Employee turnover” he stated, is “non-productive.”
A member of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) for 12 years, Vest said when he first became a board member, the town was struggling financially. Since then he says the town’s finances have grown to a point where the town is in good financial condition. “We have assets now we did not have 12 years ago. This has been accomplished,” he added, “while we have added a lot of features, many times using grants.” He cites as examples the Chuckey Depot and McKinney Center.
Adam Dickson, appointed the town’s newest alderman on March 12th, said he wants to promote economic development in 2018. “I’m hoping we can have economic development by way of using the town’s cultural resources.”
“Tourism and the natural beauty of the three counties in this area – Carter, Unicoi and Washington – have a positive appeal for people outside the area,” he said. The three counties have formed the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership (NETREP) to attract visitors to this area of the state. “We have an archive, a genealogical society and a historic appeal in Jonesborough.”
“I want to share my ideas with Town Administrator Bob Browning,” Dickson said, “I’m glad to be back on the board. I read that heritage tourism can attract $30 million to the area. The McKinney Center has been very helpful in developing cultural diversity and The Booker T. Washington Alumni Association had great things to say about the Center.”
“My perception is that people move here because of our quality of life,” said Alderman Terry Countermine when asked about what’s ahead in the community during the coming year. He continued, “We have [provided] a balance of fiscal responsibility and a place where people want to live. Our staff has a vision that promotes events like Storytelling and with the help of individuals like Bill Kennedy, preservation [of Jonesborough] is important.”
The Alderman mentioned the three major community building projects outlining how each became part of the town’s progress. “The Senior Center has been opened for three years. In meetings we found that walking trails were important to them. There will be an area set off at the park behind the center for individual garden plots. [Also there will be] an area where you can walk in quiet space. The amphitheater site located where we have a natural slope will provide an area for a storyteller or music group to perform.”
“The Pickle Court is a cross between tennis and games played with paddles. It is popular in the Southwest,” Countermine said. A Wikipedia definition states: “Pickleball is a paddle sport (similar to a racquet sport) that combines elements of badminton, tennis, and table tennis. Two or four players use solid paddles made of wood or composite materials to hit a perforated polymer ball, similar to a wiffle ball, over a net. The sport shares features of other racquet sports, the dimensions and layout of a badminton court, and a net and rules somewhat similar to tennis, with several modifications. Pickleball was invented in the mid 1960s as a children’s backyard pastime but has become one of America’s most popular growing sports among all ages.”
Countermine is looking forward to the Jackson Theater opening. He said, “Like any remodeling project, it has challenges. With the latest state grant, we can do it. This will be a really good addition to the town. When completed, the theater will hold 320 people.”
The theater complex will provide the largest venue in the town for community events and special programs, including movie and video productions using the latest technology. The Jackson was the location of the town’s movie theater before it closed in September 1960. Cost of of the restoration and remodeling for the project has been estimated at $2 million.
The alderman praised staff members and volunteers who provide services at the Chester Inn Museum, McKinney Center, Chuckey Depot and Visitors Center along with the town’s various parks and recreation areas. In talking about the McKinney Center he said, “that building is more and more popular for small to medium size groups. The Chuckey Depot is available for small parties at the caboose and many school groups visit the site.”
Like Alderman Dickson, Countermine thinks continued progress in attracting tourists and new residents to the community is a priority in 2018. He said,”People do a search [on the internet] and decide to live here.” They discover, “Jonesborough is a friendly place.”