Need for new school questioned by Washington County officials

Nathan Baker • Sep 27, 2013 at 11:27 AM

Local officials questioned the need for a new Washington County school suggested to be built seemingly in the path of Johnson City’s forecasted expansion.

At a specially called meeting of the Washington County Board of Education to reveal the district’s facilities master plan to city and school officials, some pointed out that a new $40 million school in Boones Creek suggested by analysts hired to write the plan could eventually be enveloped by city annexation.

“We did meet with Mr. (Pete) Peterson and talk about that,” architect Tony Street told the roomful of elected officials. “That has something to do with ... locating the new Boones Creek K-8. We’re actually moving it away from the city boundaries and more to the population center for Boones Creek, which is about the best we can do.”

The facilities plan, written by Street of Beeson, Lusk & Street and Eric Bosman of Kimley-Horn and Associates, names the aging and overcrowded Boones Creek Elementary and Middle schools as the highest priority for replacement.

The analysts suggested building a new school with the capacity for 1,100 students in the northeast corner of the county, somewhere near the Oak Grove community.

But some officials suggested Johnson City’s expanding boundaries along Tenn. Highway 36 and Interstate 26 could render a brand new facility obsolete before the end of its useful life.

“Will there be enough county students left in Boones Creek 50 years from now to have anybody at a Boones Creek school?“ Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe asked.

Bosman said the study considered city growth when projecting the capacity needed for the district over the next decade.

In that time period, even with potential annexation, Bosman said enrollment in grades K-8 in the district is expected to increase from approximately 6,100 to more than 6,600 — too many for the other schools to absorb if a district is dissolved.

“The vast general area that we showed on the concept plan (for the new school) has the best potential to both meet the needs of the Washington County students and be less likely to be annexed over time because of the type and character of tax base that are there,” Bosman said.

County school board member Jack Leonard pointed out that the current Boones Creek Middle School is already surrounded by the city as a result of annexation.

“They’re already in the city and they’re full,” Leonard said. “Even though the city is right on them or around them, they’re already at capacity. Even if Johnson City annexed all the way around Boones Creek, we still might have county kids there.”

Member David Hammond agreed, saying the district should spend its money to build a school to last, rather than a less expensive facility with a shorter life span.

“Our students deserve better than that,” he said. “I would be more prone to use taxpayer dollars to look at the long haul and not just a few years down the road.”

The facilities plan also includes building a new K-8 site in Jonesborough to replace the current elementary and middle schools to be completed by 2018.

Other improvements to athletic and maintenance facilities, as well as rearranging some district lines to alleviate overcrowding, are proposed in the $100 million plan.

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