BOE retools school construction plan

Jeremy Styron-News-Herald

Loudon County Board of Education on Thursday repackaged the future school construction plan it will present to county commissioners to include a renovation project on the north end of the county.

On the recommendation of board members, Director of Schools Jason Vance will outline a plan to combine the Fort Loudoun Middle and Loudon Elementary schools, expand Loudon High School and renovate Highland Park Elementary.

Total cost of the project was estimated at $11 million, with the school combination scaled back from $5 million to $2 million. The high school expansion price was tagged at about $6 million, while upgrades at Highland Park were estimated at $3 million.

Vance said plans at the elementary school could be trimmed, but the combination part of the project was essential.

"I don't care if you don't do anything else on this list, you need to connect Loudon Elementary School," Vance said. "And it probably needed to start a couple months ago because if you started tomorrow, they're probably not going to be ready to be able to have that thing under roof and prepared for kids to jump into until well after the start of the school year."

Board Chairman Bobby Johnson Jr., along with other board members, said the BOE would need to strike a compromise to move forward in securing additional funding for school building needs. The Highland Park plan was part of that compromise.

The board also plans to use any leftover funds to address traffic concerns at Eaton Elementary and North Middle schools. In addition, money from the sale of the school board's property along Highway 321 would go toward funding the purchase of a future site on the north end.

"We've got three or four or maybe more commissioners that are going to vote 'no' if we don't do something at the north end of the county," board member Gary Ubben said.

"Thatís a fact," Johnson said. "Whether I like it or not, that's just where we're at."

The board also discussed whether to send the commission one list of its top priorities or two lists that differentiated between acute building needs and other proposals, like repairs to the Loudon County Technology Center roof and addressing the old Greenback School property.

"What we take them needs to be a tight, concise package of what we want to do, and this is what it needs to cost with no question marks, as simple as possible," board member Ric Best said.

"I don't disagree with that, but the last time I took them a proposal, they voted it down," Vance said, noting that three commissioners were absent when the county voted against funding $5 million for the elementary and middle school project.

Ubben highlighted the sense of urgency given that the county still has 8 cents in property tax allocations that are unused.

"They're fairly close to making a decision of some kind," Ubben said. "We dare not delay. If we're going to come back with a proposal of any kind, we need to do it now."

Johnson said if the board sent the county two lists of potential projects, commission would likely favor the cheaper option.

"We need to stay focused in on what we need to get done with the money that we've got and spread it as far as we can spread it to fix our problems the best that we can," Johnson said.