A tiresome 3-ring circus in Jonesborough

Johnson City Press • Dec 1, 2018 at 7:15 AM

Anybody have a clown car handy?

It might be time to park it along East Jackson Boulevard in front of Jonesborough’s elementary and middle schools.

Washington County appears poised to enter yet another calendar year without a well defined plan for a better K-8 school in Tennessee’s oldest town.

Two months already have passed since the Board of Education finally settled on a path, the “Scheme 6” that would expand the middle school (formerly Jonesborough High School) and close the much-hated round elementary school next door.

But this being Washington County government, there’s rarely such a thing as easy consensus. The school board’s vote immediately was met with skepticism from the County Commission’s Health, Education and Welfare Committee about the costs involved. That seemed to be delay No. 5,280 or thereabouts since 2016.

The latest hiccup arose Thursday, again at the Health, Education and Welfare Committee, where a question about a purchase option on property adjacent to the schools was raised. School officials say the property is key to Scheme 6 because it will be used to create a new road for a bus loading and unloading zone with access to Main Street.

As Senior Reporter Robert Houk reported in Friday’s edition, the commission authorized then-County Mayor Dan Eldridge to buy the property for $777,900 when the scheme to expand the existing elementary school was still the plan of record. The neighboring Lowe’s Home Improvement store gained the right to pre-approve any construction — be it for a building or a road — on the tract when it bought its land from the same seller several years ago. The restriction would have to be removed for any project to move ahead.

Just how long have county officials known about the Lowe’s restriction, given the go-head to buy the land came almost two years ago? Surely talks with Lowe’s could have taken place before now — at least since the school board voted Oct. 2.

Back in June, county officials were wondering whether to even bother purchasing that land because of the stalemate over the school project, but they voted 20-3 to extend the purchase agreement for a sixth time.

And here we are again: Because of the land question, the Health, Education and Welfare Committee recommended yet another 90-day extension on Thursday while voting to delay action on Scheme 6. County Attorney Thomas J. Seeley III reported that a meeting was set for next Thursday between representatives for Lowe’s and the property owner to discuss removal of the restrictions.

Don’t hold your breath.

One has to wonder whether Washington County is serious about building a Jonesborough school. Parents are sick of the three-ring circus. Taxpayers should be, too.

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