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Community members rally in support of "tearing down the round" at Board of Education meeting

Jessica Fuller • Updated Nov 9, 2017 at 11:54 PM

Parents of Jonesborough Elementary School students wanted to make sure Washington County Board of Education members heard the opposition to renovating the round portion of the school.

They heard.

Citing health and safety concerns, three parents addressed the board Thursday night with more than 20 minutes of comments advocating “tearing down the round,” and more support came from the audience as each block of comments was punctuated by rounds of applause.

The path forward for the board’s Washington Way plan has been hazy since board members began to reconsider a previous plan to refurbish the existing saucer-shaped portion of Jonesborough Elementary School instead of building a new school. Outcry from the Jonesborough community followed a meeting last month in which board members considered options for the school.

Natalie Hilton brought a copy of an asbestos report to show board members and argued that reports of asbestos in the ceiling and floor tiles, in addition to problems with the water and sewage within the building, should be enough concern to raze the building and build a new school in its place.

Like Hilton, Kerrie Aistrop said her concern is with having a safe learning environment for future generations of Jonesborough students. She said sewer and water issues at the school cause the tap water to be brown and that a simple remodel isn’t the answer to the problem.

“(The renovation) will probably look amazing, but my fear is that it’s still unhealthy,” she said. “It is dangerous for our teachers and for our students to be in that environment. You want to put a $22 million Band-Aid on something that’s dangerous to our kids, I have a problem with that.”

An online poll addressing the issue posted on the Johnson City Press website two weeks ago garnered more than 600 responses, and 81 percent of responders voted in favor of tearing down the current school. If the board decides this is the way to go, the next step is finding a way to pay for it.

One solution is delaying the proposed academic magnet school, which Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton has spoken out against in the past for fear of a delay in the magnet school giving charter schools a window to get a foothold in the community.

While the board took no action on the matter at the meeting, Mary Beth Dellinger, who represents the Jonesborough district, vowed after public comments that she would do whatever it took to “tear down the round,” to a round of applause from the audience.

The board scheduled a workshop with the county budget committee on Nov. 20.

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