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Town leaders appeal to commissioners for new school

While discussions on a school facilities master plan have been underway since 2013, Mayor Kelly Wolfe said the presentation made during two committee meetings last week was Jonesborough’s entry into the conversation.
“The decision is yours, but as of right now, we have not heard the public discussion at the level we thought it should be,” Wolfe said during the June 8 meeting of the Commercial, Industrial and Agricultural Committee. “We’re here to ask that building a Jonesborough school not be precluded at this time.”
Wolfe said building a new K-8 in Boones Creek but only renovating the schools in Jonesborough is not the optimal solution for the county, in the town’s opinion.
He reminded commissioners the middle school was built in 1950. “You may be making a decision that lasts for 65 years,” he said. “We stand ready to help you should you choose that opportunity.”
Building two new K-8 facilities was suggested by Commissioner Tom Krieger following tours of the town’s elementary and middle schools in March, but Mayor Dan Eldridge said the county’s limited fiscal capacity would not allow it.
Town Administrator Bob Browning said last week a study of current and projected traffic flow through Jonesborough indicates moving the schools off of 11E would be a better option than the temporary fix renovations would offer.
“We’re saying keeping the schools in the current location will have a detrimental impact on Jonesborough,” he said. “It’s a question of what’s the best value for your investment.”
According to engineer Todd Wood, the morning speed limit reduction in school zones causes traffic to be backed up all the way to the Burger King across from the George P. Jaynes Justice Center.
Though the site may be problematic for school use, Browning said it would be ideal for retail development.
“Replacing the schools with businesses would also create traffic, but it would be planned,” Wood said.
Parents’ negative perception of the educational quality provided in decades-old schools is another problem, town leaders said.
“I know people who have moved to Johnson City, and others who drive to Grandview,” Wolfe said, referring to one of the two newest schools. “The other schools are not providing a bad education, but there is a point at which perception becomes reality.”
Wolfe asked Director of Schools Ron Dykes to name the top performing schools.
“Ridgeview is at the top,” Dykes said, listing the second school built in 2008. “The others are Gray, Fall Branch and Lamar.”
When Wolfe asked for an opinion on Grandview, Dykes said the student achievements are above the state average, but it is not one of Washington County’s top performing schools.
Pridgen Farm, adjacent to Boones Creek Road, is being recommended as an excellent site for a new K-8 and associated athletic fields. If approved, a proposed Historic Jonesborough Parkway, under discussion with the Tennessee Department of Transportation, would connect Boones Creek Road to 11E at Persimmon Ridge Road and offer a safe alternate route to the school.
Commissioner Larry England said there is no doubt the property along 11E has a better use than its current one. “But we have to look at the price tag to see if that’s a decision we could make,” he said.
Krieger said there are a number of different funding scenarios, some of which include road development. “We have to look at all of the options and find a way.”
Jonesborough officials offered the presentation to members of the Health, Education and Welfare Committee on June 10. “Were here for one reason,” Wolfe said. “The public conversation has not included building anything other than a Boones Creek school.”
Commissioner Gary McAllister said members of the HEW Committee are in agreement that the town makes a very good argument and the plan is well thought out. “With all that said, my concern is the money and how we’re going to pay for it.”