BOE halts land plans

Jeremy Nash

After considering the purchase of property off Shaw Ferry Road earlier this year, Loudon County Board of Education put the brakes on the project.

During a meeting last week, BOE member Leroy Tate made a motion to table the decision until a number of other issues were settled. He said the board should put the project in a two- or five-year plan for future consideration.

BOE Vice Chairman Craig Simon seconded the motion.

“I would anticipate that the board would want to evaluate a number of factors, including the Tate & Lyle property dispute, the student enrollment that we have, the number of students that are actually in the northern part of Loudon County and what would it look like to purchase property that would actually attach to that property,” Jason Vance, director of schools, said after the meeting. “So many different things floating around that they really need to nail down before they’re probably going to be comfortable moving forward.”
A real estate purchase agreement was drafted by attorney Robyn Askew.
School board members briefly considered an amendment from William Jenkins to ensure another piece of land is not purchased until the current property off Highway 321 is sold. Some members contended that doing so would handcuff the board.
Jeremy Buckles, whose last meeting on the school board was Thursday, said he did not want to see the BOE get less than what was initially paid for the Highway 321 property just so the board could move forward with another piece of land.
The BOE paid about $2.2 million for the Highway 321 land.
“We can’t project the enrollment growth of the county in any reasonable way at this point,” Gary Ubben, board member, said. “We kind of think we know what it’s going to do, but to link the building of a new school or the purchase of property for a new school to that — to link it to enrollment I understand, but to link it to the sale of another piece of property, that doesn’t seem very logical to me.”
Loudon County School currently has 4,900 students, which is 137 more than at this time last year, Vance said in a follow-up interview.
Jenkins’ amendment did not pass.
“Last thing I want us to do is make some terrible purchase,” Buckles said. “We’ve saw the board make that mistake in the past, but I don’t know that I really support suspending this. I think it’s something we need to continue to explore and continue to at least look into. We won’t be able to make progress unless we continue to look into this and research our options. Even to consider this (agreement), it’s not to uphold us to a purchase. It would basically put us in a term, whether it’s for a year.”
Buckles noted property prices are continually rising, and the BOE, if given the option, should do research on a “pretty good piece of property.”
“I think that one of the unspoken elephants in the room — and there’s two or three of them — is that we need to walk very careful because the county’s in very precarious financial position right now, and I think that we need to show our due diligence for any major steps that we would take on this,” Ric Best, BOE member, said. “Our progress has been good on this so far. I think we’ve moved logically step by step. It’s true we have yet to have any information utilities. We’re trying to get information on access routes.
“I would like to see us in a position where that we could continue to gather information but to not lock ourselves out of the information gathering process,” he added.
The vote to suspend passed 6-4 in favor. Buckles, Best, Ubben and Philip Moffett opposed.
“We got four people that voted no they didn’t want to suspend it,” Vance said after the meeting. “I think one was hesitant to vote yes. So really it’s a split board in regard to what we need to do to be able to move forward with the purchase of property. So, I think it’s anybody’s guess at this point. I just think that what we saw tonight was a board that’s hesitant to fully embrace (the property). I think the majority of not all of the board feels like there’s a need there. However, they’re just not prepared to move forward as quickly as we have over the past few months.”
In other business, the board:
• Hired Charles Underwood as construction overseer for renovations at Highland Park Elementary School. Underwood currently oversees construction of the Loudon High School addition.
• Approved second readings for multiple policies, including 6.304 on student discrimination, harassment, bullying, cyber-bullying and intimidation, 6.415 on student suicide prevention and 3.202 on an emergency preparedness plan.
• Passed first readings for a set of policies, including 6.413 on prevention and treatment of sports-related concussions, 6.409 on child abuse and neglect and 6.503 on homeless students.
• Authorized a series of capital projects totaling about $53,000.