At 6 p.m. Thursday at the county school district’s central office, architect Tony Street will present design plans for Jonesborough’s schools to the Board of Education. But they’ll also be met with a group hoping to influence the outcome.
Currently, the Board of Education, under guidance of the County Commission and mayor’s office, are planning to renovate and add on to Jonesborough Elementary School to create a kindergarten through eighth-grade facility for up to 1,100 students. The existing Jonesborough Middle School would then be converted into an academic magnet high school for the county’s high-achieving scholars bound for universities.
Some parents, teachers and even school board members, however, would rather see the 50-year-old, saucer portion of the elementary school demolished completely and a new facility built in its place.
Flyers distributed in the community and posts on Facebook encourage them to rally under the hashtag #JESteardowntheround and attend Thursday’s meeting to show the strength of their support.
School board member Mary Beth Dellinger, who represents the Jonesborough district, said Monday she understands their concerns.
“People in my district have been contacting me,” she said. “They are concerned about the lack of equity and planning for the students in Jonesborough versus the students in Boones Creek.
It’s difficult for parents in Jonesborough to understand why Boones Creek is getting a new $25 million facility when enrollment at Jonesborough is around 100 more students.”
In May, the Washington County Commission approved a spending plan for school capital projects, among other things, after a 40-cent increase in property taxes.
Under the plan, $24.3 million was allocated for the new Boones Creek school and $25.7 million for the Jonesborough K-8 and magnet projects. By sending a majority of the proceeds from the tax increase into a special capital projects fund, the county hopes to avoid sharing up to half of the projects’ costs with the Johnson City school district, which is legally entitled to receive a portion of funds borrowed for school construction.
In an emailed statement, county Mayor Dan Eldridge, who has long been a critic of state laws requiring education spending funded by tax dollars be spread among all students in the county, said the current school capital plan was the most fiscally sound.
Boones Creek Middle School is 78 years old, he said, and bringing it up to building codes and standards, without adding classroom capacity, would have cost $15 million. Boones Creek Elementary is in roughly the same state as Jonesborough’s open floor plan school, because both were built at approximately the same time.
“The total cost of renovations to the two Boones Creek facilities with no additional capacity, was only marginally less than the cost of building a new facility that contained the capacity for anticipated enrollment growth,” Eldridge wrote.
Jonesborough Elementary has a newer wing built 20 years ago, which Eldridge said helped reduce the cost of a renovation project.
By renovating and building new walls to separate the round part of the building, the mayor said the school can be equivalent in square footage to the new Boones Creek school at less cost.
“This plan allowed for all of the school facility needs identified by the School Board to be met by the County Commission within the borrowing limitations previously established and within the debt service funding available from the tax increase passed in June of 2016,” Eldridge wrote.
For Dellinger, the plan doesn’t add up.
“It’s way outdated, and I don’t want to continue to renovate it and people are still having to deal with it 50 years from now,” she said of Jonesborough Elementary. “We just need to put the magnet school off. I keep looking at that and wondering why $5 million was added for that. It’s like it’s taking away money from Jonesborough.”
Under Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton’s over-arching plan for the district, what she calls “The Washington Way,” the academic magnet and a career and technical education facility will be established.
Originally, her plans called for the demolition of the round section of Jonesborough Elementary, but commissioners instead chose to renovate it to save money.
Dellinger has advocated delaying the magnet school project in the past to free up funding for the K-8 in Jonesborough, but Halliburton said delays could give charter schools time to establish a foothold in the county.
Halliburton could not be reached for comment Monday.