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Eldridge, Grandy, Wolfe weigh in on Washington County Board of Education choice to rebuild Jonesborough Elementary

Jessica Fuller • Updated Dec 8, 2017 at 11:58 PM

In the wake of the Washington County Board of Education’s decision to move forward with plans to tear down the existing Jonesborough Elementary school and build an all-new K-8 school, local leaders weighed in on the decision as it heads toward the County Commission.

The plan that the board passed in a 5-4 vote Thursday night axes the academic magnet school in an attempt to garner more funds for a new building for the proposed school, but architect Tony Street estimated at the meeting that the selected plan is at least $3 million over the allocated budget.

Even though the motion, made by Mary Beth Dellinger, passed, several board members weren’t optimistic that the plan would make it through the county commission.

The motion came after Street presented scheme 3, in which the current Jonesborough Middle School building is renovated and added on to create the new school, a concept within the budgetary parameters set by the county commission early this year. But Dellinger and others weren’t any happier with it than they were with the plan to renovate the round Jonesborough Elementary school building.

Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said he doesn’t understand why the board members weren’t more receptive of scheme 3, which was first presented to board members at a Finance Committee meeting Wednesday night.

“I guess the best way to characterize my situation is I’m really confused by the school board’s actions,” Eldridge said Friday. “They have a very viable option that has been presented to them that is within the budget and that I feel confident the commission is ready to support. Instead they chose an option that is over budget.

“The taxes have been raised, this county commission is not going to raise taxes again, so I don’t know why the school board has put themselves in a box like they have.”

During Thursday’s meeting, school board members passed around different ideas to get more money for projects – David Hammond mentioned putting Asbury and Midway academies under one roof and selling a Boones Creek property, but Eldridge said the former wouldn’t be enough money to make up the deficit. While he agreed that selling one of the Boones Creek properties would be a good idea, state law requires funding to be in place before the county can enter into a contract for a project, so the time it would take to sell the property and have the money in-hand could push back the project by years.

“The county commission has at every decision point said yes to the school board, even going so far as raising taxes 40 cents to pay for it, but for some reason they can’t get together on this Jonesborough project,” the mayor said, adding, “To me, the point of this is let’s focus on dealing with this sub-standard learning environment with this school, and we have an excellent option. Everybody wins, why is that not good enough?”

Dellinger said at Thursday’s meeting that changing plans from renovating the 40-year-old elementary school building to renovating the 75-year-old middle school building wasn’t any better and maintained her advocacy for a brand new school for Jonesborough students. Parents of Jonesborough Elementary School students who have spoken up at past board meetings have also expressed that they feel Jonesborough was left as an afterthought when the board made plans to give Jonesborough and Boones Creek new K-8 schools.

Time is also something that’s on the minds of board members, Eldridge, county commissioner Joe Grandy and Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe. Every month the project is pushed back makes a 2020 grand opening less likely, and Street estimated a three-month delay would push the project back a whole year. 

“The money’s been appropriated, but we’re certainly willing to look at any opportunities to bring that plan within budget to get that school started, but we’re losing a lot of time right now,” Grandy said. 

Wolfe, who is in favor of tearing down the old elementary school building, said that while he’s glad to see some movement going forward with the project, he hopes the project can move forward as effectively and efficiently as possible. 

“My hope is to eventually stop seeing the split votes and everybody come together around one solution,” he said. “What matters most to us here in Jonesborough is our kids having the same degree of facilities as other communities in Washington County have been given so as to enhance their abilities to achieve academically.

“We simply need a new school and need it as quickly as possible.”

The narrow vote sends the plan to the Health, Education and Welfare committee, then to the county Budget Committee before it makes it to the floor of the county commission in January. 

Email Jessica Fuller at jfuller@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Jessica on Twitter @fullerjf91. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jfullerJCP.

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