Climbing out of Jonesborough’s sinkhole

Johnson City Press • May 6, 2018 at 7:30 AM

Construction around here can be tough. Northeast Tennessee sits on karst terrain — our limestone-covered hills, ridges and valleys are prone to developing sinkholes and underground caves.

Local school leaders know all about sinkholes, and not just from geology lessons. A giant sinkhole forced Unicoi County to shut down Love Chapel Elementary School in 2013, and site excavations for Washington County’s newest school project unveiled three sinkholes on the property in Boones Creek last year. The work moved ahead, though, as project managers determined they could be filled without affecting construction.

But Washington County still is coping with a giant school sinkhole. It’s not geological, though. It’s geographical, financial, political and egotistical.

For two years, county leaders, educators and parents have grappled over what to do about Jonesborough’s K-8 schools and the limited funding available to upgrade them. After the raising taxes in part to fund school construction, the county planned for the new school in Boones Creek and a renovated/expanded facility in Jonesborough.

But some Board of Education members and Jonesborough parents called foul, saying students in both communities deserved a fresh start. They were unsatisfied with the prospect of keeping the original spaceship-shaped potion of Jonesborough Elementary School.

County Mayor Dan Eldridge and his backers on the County Commission have been firmly entrenched in the original plan approved in 2016, saying the county can’t afford to do more. The other side keeps pushing other options in hopes of “tearing down the round.” The school board’s latest “scheme” — building half of a new school first as a K-4 and finishing the project as a K-8 with future funding — failed Thursday in a 2-2 tie at the County Commission’s Health, Education and Welfare Committee.

The sinkhole just gets deeper.

In February, we encouraged the combatants to lock themselves in a room until they could come out with a working solution. Here we are in May, and Jonesborough still doesn’t have firm footing on a school project, while county officials warn that delays could affect costs.

We’d hate to see this drag out through the summer until the new commission, school board and county mayor are in place from the August election. Eldridge, who has not helped things with insulting rhetoric and politicking, is not seeking re-election, and the commission will be reduced from 25 to 15 members.

Neither side shows any signs of climbing out of the sinkhole anytime soon, though. Perhaps Jonesborough’s students can suggest a solution. They couldn’t do any worse than the adults.

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