It's more of the same for Jonesborough K-8

Robert Houk • Jan 4, 2019 at 12:00 AM

It was more of the same for Washington County’s Health, Education and Welfare Committee on Thursday as members voted to hold a special called meeting in the coming weeks to consider funding options for a new K-8 school in Jonesborough.

It was the third time in two months that county commissioners have delayed a decision on moving the long-delayed school project to the next stage. County and school officials, however, said word of the possible lifting of property restrictions on the sale of the nearby 15-acre Joe McCoy property gives them hope of progress ahead.

“Since you last met, a whole lot has happened, but nothing has changed,” County Schools Director Bill Flanary told commissioners in response to news that Charlotte, N.C.-based Lowe’s Home Improvement had agreed to remove restrictions it had asked to be attached to the purchase of the remaining tract when it bought its land from McCoy for its Jonesborough store more than a decade ago.

While county officials await concrete action on the restrictions, Flanary said the county’s Board of Education is still committed to the purchase of the McCoy property as an intergal part of Scheme 6 for a K-8 in Jonesborough.

“Everything we hear is very encouraging,” County Attorney Thomas J. Seeley III told HEW committee members.

He said representatives of Lowe’s were “working on the language” to release the legal restrictions from the sale of the property.

“The ball is in Lowe’s court, but it could potentially happen soon,” Seeley said.

Commissioner Jodi Jones said she was hopeful the land restrictions could be removed by February. Jones said that would give the HEW committee time to hold a special meeting to discuss Scheme 6 and funding options for a new K-8 in Jonesborough. She said many of the decisions to be made on the project have been long in coming and are “time-sensitive.”

Jones aso noted Scheme 6 would bring the county “very close to its debt ceiling,” which is something she hopes commissioners will discuss at a daylong workshop they will hold on Jan. 19.

HEW Chairman Danny Edens agreed, and said that is why the county’s Budget and Finance Director Mitch Meredith must be a part of the discussion. Edens said Meredith “has left me with the impression that any cost for the project would be based on borrowing.”

Original projections for the Jonesborough school project called for borrowing nearly $20 million, with half that amount going to Johnson City Schools as required by state law.

After months of debate, the Board of Education finally voted in early October to approve Scheme 6, which calls for renovating the current Jonesborough Middle School and adding about 64,000 square feet to the building. Scheme 6 would also leave the current Jonesborough Elementary School building standing.

In January 2017, the commission authorized the county mayor to buy the property for $777,900. The property was initially needed to build the first proposed Jonesborough school scheme, which called for expanding the existing elementary school into a K-8.

Now, 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 in Jonesborough.

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