Washington County commissioners defer vote on school funding agreement

The bond money would pay for additional classrooms at South Side Elementary School and improvements at other city schools.

Johnson City is moving forward with plans to create additional classroom space for its growing student body.

On Thursday, Johnson City commissioners unanimously approved a roughly $1.425 million bid from J.E. Green Company to construct four additional classrooms on the second story of South Side Elementary School.

The total budget for the project is about $1.6 million, including ancillary costs like architectural and engineering fees and furnishings.

Randy Trivette, the city’s director of facilities management, told commissioners that construction will occur while school is in session and that the project is scheduled to be completed in about nine months.

Johnson City Schools Superintendent Steve Barnett said the project is the first phase in the system’s plan to move fifth-graders back to the elementary school level and turn Indian Trail Intermediate School and Liberty Bell Middle School into middle schools serving grades 6-8.

Trivette said fifth graders are scheduled to transition to the elementary school level in fall 2022.

Currently, fifth- and sixth-graders in the city school system attend Indian Trail and then move on to Liberty Bell in grades 7 and 8.

Barnett said the city is also planning on adding eight classrooms apiece at Lake Ridge and Woodland elementary schools, which should help with growth occurring on the northwest and northeast sides of town.

“It gives us some space we desperately need at our middle schools,” Barnett said.

In November, Barnett said Indian Trail, which has eight feeder schools, was designed to accommodate about 1,100 students but housed about 1,250.

Liberty Bell, meanwhile, has an ideal capacity of about 1,300 students but served about 1,250 students as of November.

Trivette said the eight-classroom addition at Woodland, a project that will also include replacing the entire HVAC system, will probably take about 18 months.

City staff hope to bring the project to commissioners for approval in October or November.

Trivette said the additions at Lake Ridge, meanwhile, will likely take 12 months with construction possibly starting around January or February.

The city is also gearing up for construction at Indian Trail, a project that will involve adding a 6,000-square-foot storage facility to the back of the building and converting 16 existing classrooms to science labs in an effort to make the building comparable to Liberty Bell.

Trivette anticipates the city will advertise that project for bids in the next two weeks.

Barnett said the school system has been growing by about 100 students a year, which has necessitated the additional space.

According to projections from a report on the Johnson City Schools website, transitioning to two 6-8 middle schools would result in a total of 1,881 students at both Indian Trail and Liberty Bell in the 2022-23 school year, short of the 2,553 projected by 2022-23 in their current configuration.

The elementary school population in the city school system, taking into account the addition of fifth-graders, would total 3,921 students by the 2022-23 school year.

Under the current model, there would be 3,249 students by the 2022-23 school year.