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K-8 school plan moves to county's Budget Committee

Robert Houk • Sep 6, 2019 at 12:00 AM

A lease-to-own agreement with the county calling for the town of Jonesborough to build a new K-8 school and athletic complex cleared its first hurdle in the Washington County Commission with a unanimous voice vote by the Health, Education and Welfare Committee on Thursday.

The measure is to be heard next in the county’s Budget Committee, whose members will be asked to comb through the terms of the proposed Jonesborough school deal when they meet next week.

Commissioner Jim Wheeler, who serves on the Budget Committee and is the town’s attorney, has helped to work out many of the details of the proposed school lease plan. He told members of the Health, Education and Welfare Committee he is consulting attorneys and government officials concerning “legal issues” that might require him to recuse himself from a committee vote on the matter.

Meanwhile, HEW Chairman Danny Edens did cast a vote Thursday after noting he was employed by the town of Jonesborough, but told his colleagues he would act in the best interests of his constituents and Washington County. 

The Washington County Board of Education voted last week to enter into an agreement with the town to build a new K-8 school. That agreement calls for the formation of a Design Committee to include the county mayor and a county commissioner, as well as three school board members (from the Jonesborough school district) and a teacher or administrator, who teaches in a Jonesborough school.

Jonesborough has proposed building the school on a 48-acre tract that it will purchase off North Cherokee Street — just north of the George Jaynes Justice Center. The town would enter into a lease-to-own agreement with Washington County, which would make annual payments of $2.362 million as part of a 20-year deal.

At the end of the lease agreement, the Board of Education would own the Jonesborough school building and the town would control the sports complex.

Commissioner Jodi Jones said she felt “one of the coolest things” about the Jonesborough school proposal is the opportunity for the county to collaborate with the town and the Board of Education to meet pressing recreational and educational needs.

“I’m excited about that,” she said. “This is a real opportunity to be creative.”

To do that, Jones said there must be “a formal process” to continue the collaborative working relationship that is set to begin with the Design Committee to “help protect our investment” as the project moves forward.

Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest said such collaboration will be a “continuing process” after the Jonesborough school is built.

“It will be a special moment if we can get this all worked out,” he said.

Town Administrator Bob Browning said he and his staff “have already started the collaborative process” to bring the arts, agricultural and storytelling programs to the new Jonesborough school.

Vest said also told committee members he expects the town will be able to build a new K-8 and athletic facilities at a cost that is much less than the $32 million figure quoted in the proposed lease. He said those savings should come on the “front end” with the land purchase, site development and in the design phase.

“That’s our goal,” he said. 

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