With Fort Loudoun Middle School opening this semester and a new school in Greenback set for completion early next year, Loudon County Board of Education has set its sights on the next round of construction projects.
Those improvements could include an additional wing at Loudon High School, renovations at Highland Park Elementary, an athletic fieldhouse in Greenback and reconfiguring the traffic loop at Eaton Elementary and North Middle schools.
Board of Education members made a list of what they considered immediate construction needs for the school district during a special called Wednesday meeting ahead of Loudon County Commission's Monday workshop and a ribbon cutting at Fort Loudoun Middle School slated for Thursday.
A joint meeting between the BOE and commission will follow the ribbon cutting.
Director of Schools Jason Vance said during a follow-up interview that he plans to speak with commission after the ribbon cutting about the school system's most pressing needs, future plans and the proposal previously floated by Loudon County Mayor Estelle Herron to move the BOE offices to the Loudon County Technology Center in Lenoir City.
"I think the Board of Ed wants to move as quickly as they're given an opportunity to move, but I think they also recognize and respect the commission wanting to complete the current projects before we move forward as well," Vance said. "They just want to make sure they're cooperating with commission as best that they can with the understanding that they express to the commission the urgency behind their request."
Other considerations In addition to the top four needs the BOE prioritized during the workshop, other potential projects include classroom additions at Loudon Elementary and North Middle schools, selling the $2 million piece of property along Highway 321, razing or selling the old Greenback School site, renovating the Philadelphia Elementary School entrance and purchasing new property on the north end of the county for a future school.
Board Chairman Bobby Johnson Jr. said during the meeting that in order to pitch the school district's immediate construction needs to county commission, the board would need to include a project from the north end of the county.
"We all agree Loudon High School is probably number one, but to sell it, you're going to have to put Highland Park in there," Johnson said.
Steve Harrelson, who represents Lenoir City on Loudon County Commission, has been one of the most vocal proponents of school construction on the north end of the county after phase one was complete. Phase one included new schools in Greenback and Fort Loudoun Middle, along with renovations to the Philadelphia Elementary cafeteria.
County officials tied in the Fort Loudoun and Loudon Elementary School combination project as part of phase one.
"I want to get all of phase one and phase one-A complete before we even start addressing any money appropriations for phase two," Harrelson said during a follow-up interview.
Harrelson said he wants to see how the current construction projects are aligning with the budget before considering additional work.
"I'm not in a position right now, and I think there's some others on commission too that would rather wait to start on phase two until after we get everything completed on phase one and see what the final budget numbers were on phase one, just to see what kind of money we do have still available to start anything in phase two," Harrelson said.
The BOE also considered how to address the old Greenback School property once students moved into the new building after the new year. The majority of members agreed the school district should turn it back over to the county and construct an adjoining fieldhouse to serve additional athletic needs.
Greenback reductions Vance said the Greenback project was initially cut from $30 million to $24 million, and early plans included preserving and renovating the old gymnasium.
"When we chopped it to $24 million we did everything else with the understanding we were always going to have to come back and do something with that gym," Vance said. "I think that was part of the conversation if you remember we had an extra gym on the old Greenback School. We decided we couldn't afford" to renovate it.
In addition to new construction plans, school officials mulled a plan to move all of the BOE offices into the technology center.
Board member Ric Best asked whether commission would provide additional money for renovating the center since the county made the request.
"That's a golden question," Vance said.
"We have to figure that even though there's a directive for us to move over here, we still have to use capital project money that was really intended for something else," Best said.
Vance said he thought the intent was for the county to use adequate facilities tax money to pay for renovations to the technology center.
In October 2006, county commission approved a school facilities tax to be levied at a rate of $1 per square foot of residential property pursuant to T.C.A. 67-4-29, which is titled the County Powers Relief Act.
"The purpose of this part is to authorize counties to levy a privilege tax on persons and entities engaged in the residential development of property, in order to provide a county with an additional source of funding to defray the cost of providing school facilities to meet the needs of the citizens of the county as a result of population growth," according to state law.
School money for offices? School officials questioned whether AFT money could be used to renovate school office space.
"The resolution on the adequate facilities tax is it's got to be used for schools," board member Gary Ubben said. "Now a new office building for the Board of Education isn't a school."
Vance said he was hesitant to move forward with renovations for adult facilities at the technology center before addressing educational needs.
"My frustration is that we would be working on a building for adults before we would be finished with all of our requests for kids," Vance said. "That's my only reservation. If we have all these (projects) taken care of minus that one it wouldn't hurt my feelings a bit."