“In 1939, this would have been a perfect school and it has certainly served the Boones Creek community well for over 70 years.”
Boones Creek MS Principal
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article marks the first in a series spotlighting school needs in Washington County. In upcoming issues, look for articles spotlighting Boones Creek Elemetary and Jonesborough schools.
By COLLIN BROOKS
It isn’t simply wanting more space for the second largest school zone in the Washington County School System. Longtime Boones Creek Middle School Principal Mike Edmonds and his dedicated staff have been making the current building they inhabit work.
Edmonds mentions that the problem is that he and the staff of Boones Creek Elementary have been making the building work since it was built in 1939. They got another bit of space in 1955, which helped some of the overflow capacity then, he said, but that still isn’t ample enough space to provide more than four restrooms (two boys and two girls) for the entire student population of just over 319 children.
Even those bathrooms aren’t in the best space, as the eight 5th and 6th grade classes are forced to walk a significant distance from their classrooms to use the facilities.
Edmonds says that is just one of the deficiencies that makes up a long list of needs for the Boones Creek schools.
The first talk of renovations surfaced in 2000-2001, when a short-term capital needs study was performed that included required updates for the Boones Creek schools. While a new Boones Creek school didn’t come from that study, Grandview and Ridgeview were produced.
However, in 2012, a long-term capital needs master plan was created, with the first phase including a new Boones Creek School. Yet the school system is only a small step closer to seeing it come to fruition as the Washington County Commission and the Washington County Board of Education continue to grapple with the idea of building a new K-8 for the Boones Creek students.
“In 1939, this would have been a perfect school and it has certainly served the Boones Creek community well for over 70 years,” Edmonds told the Herald and Tribune on Thursday, April 14. “It’s not about wanting more. It’s next in line to have a new school, and it has been a topic of discussion for over 20 years.”
The most recent point of concern has been cost, but no matter whether a new structure is built, or renovations go into the buildings that are over a half-a-century old, Washington County Director of Schools Ron Dykes says that a big amount of money will have to go into the schools.
“Either you build a new school or you spend close to $15 million on renovations; it is not an option to do nothing this time,” said Dykes, who has been pushing for a new school since he took over as director in the spring of 2007-2008. “That is the real issue. You can’t simply fail to act in this instance, something has to occur to either repair, replace or extend or renovate those structures. If you are not going to build a new school, then you will sink significant dollars into those, close to $15 million into the Boones Creeks.
[lsvr_gallery images=”24099,24100,24101,24102,24103,24104″ items_per_row=”4″ masonry=”yes” click_action=”lightbox”] “What you will have is two nice structures that are still sitting where they currently sit and there would be no room for growth in that renovation. It would certainly allow (the schools) to exist another 15 years, probably, but there will be no room for growth whatsoever and it is really throwing good money after bad.”
The list of deficiencies for the building is surprisingly long, though some of the problems weren’t big concerns when Edmonds roamed the halls as a first grader in 1964.
Edmonds said that even the office doesn’t provide adequate enough space for day-to-day operations, much less if a handicap student or parent needs to be inside.
“Those are issues that we can deal with,” Edmonds admits. “But the classroom space is very tight and with technology, the electrical needs that it takes, the electricity here is maxed out.”
Edmonds tells stories about times when he or a faculty member has had to take time out of their day to go to the circuit breaker and flip a switch because the overload had shut them off.
The library is barely big enough to host the faculty meetings, according to Edmonds, simply because of the lack of space. Another issue is the cramped quarters of the library, which houses 20 of the schools 40-plus computers. They are lined up against the wall in the library, so when any digital testing is required, the library must be shutdown from other students’ use.
The school is in need of another technology room for state-mandated digital testing, however, adding a computer classroom would take away a needed classroom.
Other known problems include multiple issues that don’t meet current codes, like the small size of the gymnasium bleachers that fail to comply with current population code and ceiling height in the cafeteria on the ramp, which also does not meet code. In addition, the original 1939 classroom portion is wood construction, including the floors, and will require the installation of a sprinkler system to meet current code.
Outside of the building, the wall that houses the cafeteria and classrooms will often leak whenever a hard rain is blown into the side of the wall. It has been mortared and plastered so much that to the mortar is often more visible than the brick it holds together.
For Edmonds, the issue boils down to the equity of the school buildings within the same system.
“To sit back and see my kids in our school have to go to another school in our school district and see what kind of opportunities they have, it’s discouraging,” Edmonds said. “The students in Boones Creek deserve no less than students in any other school in our system. The students at Fall Branch deserve no less than any other student in our system.
“But yet, every other school in the system, has a full size gym except Boones Creek. And a gym is not the answer to the problems here, it’s just part of the problem.”
It is a problem has been noticed by the Washington County Commissioners. Even the newest member, Dr. Paul Stanton, is well aware of the need.
“My whole professional life has been around education and these schools, in my assessment, must be replaced. And the problem is, the day you decide to give it the green light, you are still three to five years out from getting it complete. But I do think that we have a commission that is very sympathetic, and I believe that.”
However, that sympathy won’t allow some commissioners to make a hasty decision without examining all the options. Commissioner Danny Edens says that he knows a school is needed, but the commission can’t be irresponsible when it comes to raising taxes.
“To say there is not a need would be a false statement,” Edens said. “There is no denying the need. We are responsible for the education of our children, not just a new building but other things. But there is a right way to do things and a wrong way.”
The Boones Creek schools have been an island within the city of Johnson City for some time. Currently, both Boones Creek schools are nestled well within the city limits.
Edmonds says that when he was a child, he was able to walk to school. Now the county buses children through the city in order to reach the school. While the bus trips aren’t too concerning, the long trips limit parental involvement.
“If you are right there around the school, it isn’t that hard to come over,” Edmonds said. “But if you have to drive all the way across the city to come over, it’s an issue.”
And the issue is exacerbated by the fact that 58 percent of Boones Creek Middle School’s 319 are eligible for free or reduced lunches.
Other issues with the school include updates to the HVAC controls and fire alarms, a chimney that needs to be removed due to lighting strikes, other visible updating to the school and inadequate outdoor athletic space.
But even if the decision to build a school was made in April, Dykes said that they might be able to open the school for the 2019 school year.
“If they wait throughout the summer and into the fall, we are going to miss a deadline, as best case scenario the school might be ready in the middle of a school year, which would be very problematic,” Dykes said.
Edmonds would just be happy to see a school being built, even if he doesn’t get to grace its doors as the principal.
“Even though it is getting closer and closer to the time when I step aside, I want to see a school for the future of this community,” Edmonds said. “And we can sit back and debate, Johnson City and Washington County, and all those scenarios, but what we should do is worry about the kids and build a school.”