School officials look to meeting to get school project back on track

Jessica Fuller • Updated Jan 2, 2018 at 11:48 PM

With the dawn of a new year, the long-awaited Jonesborough K-8 school project hasn’t moved forward with a clear plan.

But a plan could push through to the county commission this month — if it makes it through a joint committee meeting this week.

Since the original plan to renovate and add on to the round elementary school building was shot down by Jonesborough community members, Washington County school board members have been floundering to find a plan within the budgetary parameters set by the county commission.

A budget-friendly plan presented at December’s school board meeting to renovate the 70-year-old middle school building instead was met with equal criticism, and a narrow vote passed a plan for a  new school last month despite being several million dollars over budget.

According to Tony Street, the board’s hired architect for the project, the window to get the project completed in time for a 2020 opening shrinks every month. The county commission voted last year to fund $20 million for a combined renovation project for Jonesborough and a county academic magnet school project; the board’s motion last month voted to put the magnet school on hold, and use those funds to build a complete new school for Jonesborough.

That means the plan has to be approved by the county commission again, and as it stands, the proposed new school is still at least $3 million over budget. The plan has to make it through both the county Budget and Health, Education and Welfare Committees before it can make it to the floor of the county commission again.

The board scheduled a joint meeting with these two committees on Wednesday night in the hopes of getting it prepared in time for the commission’s January meeting, but board member Mary Beth Dellinger, who has pushed for a new school since the beginning, said she is a little discouraged by the situation and county Mayor Dan Eldridge’s past responses to the issue.

“I don’t think the mayor is trying to work with the board, for some reason he’s dead set on the round building remodeled, and now a he’s trying to sell a 70-year-old building to be remodeled when four miles down the road we have a brand new school,” she said Tuesday. “It just doesn’t seem like he’s trying hard enough. We could stop the sports complex and try to put more money into the Jonesborough (project), but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Last month, commissioners and school board members were invited to a walkthrough of the middle school building to get an idea of what a renovation of that building would be like, but Dellinger said that didn’t change her mind that Jonesborough students deserve a new school. To her, she said it would be worth pushing back the opening date of a new school if it meant Jonesborough students would get a new school like Boones Creek students are getting.

“Jonesborough residents had their taxes raised, too, don’t they deserve a new school?” Dellinger said. “I want to represent the parents and the community’s viewpoint and their wishes.”

Commissioner and Jonesborough representative Joe Grandy also attended the walkthrough of the current Jonesborough Middle School building, and will attend the join meeting on Wednesday as a member of the county Budget committee. He said he planned the walkthrough of the school in order to get a grasp on what that project would look like.

Grandy said that he hoped Wednesday night’s meeting produced a sense of direction for the projects and get them underway.

“My goal would be to give the students the best learning environment we can,” he said, adding, “I think in terms of fairness (Jonesborough students) deserve equal educational opportunity, whether its a new school or a rebuilt school.

“I just hope that we can have some decision from the school board to move forward on these Jonesborough projects because if we wait too much longer we’re going to miss an entire year of access to new facilities.”

The meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Washington County Central Office. If both committees pass the plan, it could head to the January county commission meeting for consideration.

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