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Road gets rocky as school vote nears



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Jonesborough’s school plan may have hit a snag.

A new version of the proposed Jonesborough school lease agreement posted Oct. 21 has some stipulations and language that the town was not privy to, according to Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest.

“We’re a little discouraged coming out of the meeting last Thursday,” Vest admitted early Tuesday, referring to the Oct. 18 Washington County Commission called meeting last week where town officials had hoped to see a lease signed that could result in a new school for Jonesborough.

What they found instead was one more delay in a quest begun in August to finalize an agreement with the county to build a new Jonesborough school and recreational facilities, with the Town of Jonesborough securing the financing.

At Thursday’s meeting, commissioners chose to postpone the decision on the lease until the regular Oct. 28 meeting to allow more time to peruse the documents, but also for officials to have an opportunity to set total monetary commitment from the County at either $32 or $34 million. It was, according to Culver Schmid, an attorney with Baker and Donelson and representing the county, the one issue that needed to be resolved in order to move forward.

That cap is important, Grandy said, to help the county in controlling project costs.

“The language that drove this project went from $32 million to $32 million plus capitalized interest,” Grandy explained. “That  ($32 million) was the basis for all the financial calculations. When you start changing the base model, it throws everything off.”

The issue for the town, Vest said, is that there was no attempt to meet to work through the discrepancy before Monday’s posting.

“We were under the assumption that Mayor Grandy would talk with us to resolve that one remaining issue that he had,” Vest said. “Unfortunately they chose not to talk to us over the weekend and Mayor Grandy and his legal team presented their own lease with changes that we hadn’t agreed to or even seen. Some of those things can jeopardize this entire project.”

There were also items that were added to the Oct. 21 lease that are not acceptable to the Town of Jonesborough, Vest added.

He noted that language surrounding a call for a cap in architect and design fees, for example, stipulates that “any cost over that dollar  amount would be paid for by the town of Jonesborough. Of course, Jonesborough is not able to pay some of those costs. . . To try to pass some of those additional costs to the Town of Jonesborough is just not acceptable.”

Vest was also disappointed to see the town’s recent agreement to take on Boones Creek’s recreational facility maintenance and care, as well as Jonesborough’s, nowhere in the new lease.

“We felt like we could do more,” he said.

Despite Vest’s disapproval, county mayor Grandy does not agree that the new lease is that substantially different from the one presented on Oct. 18, but views it instead as an attempt to capture the concerns of the commissioners.

“The agreement that we published yesterday is sort of a compilation of information that was taken from commissioners comments and concerns and issues around that last meeting,” he explained. “It’s basically the same agreement that the commissioners saw at that meeting except for a few small tweaks.”

Grandy acknowledged that there had been no additional meetings with Jonesborough after Oct. 18, but explained that time had become an issue, prompting the quick posting. There needed to be time, he said, for the commissioners to consider the document as a whole.

Grandy added that the lease could be amended at the Oct, 28 meeting.

He also stressed that “All financial responsibility in this project is on the county. Jonesborough bears no responsibility for anything  financial. What we are trying to do is work with them in controlling costs.”

Despite the dispute, both mayors seem to be committed to making the new Jonesborough school a reality.

“I believe it will happen,” Grandy said. “There are probably a few things to work out. Really, this is sort of our best option forward right now.”

For Vest, the goal is also to move forward. The Town of Jonesborough has announced a called meeting for Monday, Oct. 28, at 4 p.m., prior to the commission’s 6 p.m. meeting, to discuss the issue. Vest has said they will consider signing a lease during that meeting.

“To put it frankly, I believe the lease (that was presented at the Oct. 18 meeting) actually could be passed and everyone could be happy,” he said. But he is not ready to quit.

“Don’t give up hope,” Vest said, addressing Jonesborough’s families, many of whom attended the Oct 18 meeting to share their support for a new school. “We’re going to push forward.”