Loudon meeting discusses schools

Building plans draw questions, criticisms

By Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com
A vocal crowd of Loudon County residents, members of the school board and County Commission met in a special called workshop Monday to learn more about the latest plans for the long-awaited school building program.

County Mayor Estelle Herron, elected last year on a promise to bring the board and commission together on the building program, scheduled the meeting to help break the more than five-year deadlock over the program.

"I feel part of my job as mayor is to give the commission the most accurate information available," she said.

Community Tectonics architect Don Shell gave a presentation showing how plans for a new pre-K through 12 school in Greenback would save the county as much as $6 million over previous plans that might have cost $29 million.

The new building will be about 145,000 square feet - a 38,000-square-foot reduction - and suitable for about 800 students, Shell said.

School board member Bill Marcus questioned the size of the building, noting that the current building at 78,000 sq. ft. is adequate for the almost 700 students now attending Greenback.

"Why do we need twice as much space?" he asked.

The school was designed to meet specific requirements, Shell said. Classrooms include extra space for equipment such as personal computers. The gymnasium was designed to seat 1,000 people because that is the threshold to host regional sports events, he said.

School board Chairman Scott Newman hit a nerve when he questioned building a high school for the approximately 200 high school students in Greenback when it might be possible to build a regional high school that would serve the entire county.

Newman's inquiry was met with howls of protest from members of the audience, many wearing orange Greenback T-shirts.

LuAnne Smith, a parent of a Greenback student, told the members of the board and commission that she had experienced regional consolidation of schools in Blount County that had resulted in discipline problems and a lack of school spirit.

Smith urged the board and commission to "do what's right for the kids."

The board and commission also heard from Scott Gibson of Cumberland Securities regarding possible financing of up to $40 million to complete projects in Phase One of the building program that includes Greenback, a new Fort Loudoun Middle School and a new cafeteria at Philadelphia Elementary. Several options for financing $40 million at 5 percent over 30 years would require a property tax increase of between 10 cents and 15 cents, Gibson said.

Commissioner Don Miller pointed out that state comptroller guidelines suggest that municipalities not enter into such loans for periods of longer than 25 years.

Mayor Herron kept a tight rein on a public comment period following the meeting. Speakers were allowed two minutes to ask questions or make comments.

Tellico Village resident Jim Vreeland cautioned the commission on the real cost of building program. Before the program is paid for, interest payments, change orders and cost overruns could push a $40 million price tag as high as $100 million, he said.

Commission, Board of Education discuss Greenback

Elizabeth Trexler News Herald

"After tonight, I hope we can put some of these rumors to bed," Mayor Estelle Herron said as she opened the joint Loudon County Commission and Loudon County Board of Education meeting.

She also informed the audience anyone who had rotten tomatoes to toss could leave.

The meeting, held Monday at the Loudon County Technical Center, lasted less than three hours, but oftentimes the audience, estimated to be more than 100 people, had to shout out for the speakers to talk louder.

Don Shell of Community Techtonics was the first speaker of the night. He provided a look at the changes made recently to the Greenback School plan.

Shell told the audience they have removed the third wing and placed the high school on the second level, above the middle school. Community Techtonics has also decided on 277 parking spots, to allow for event parking for things such as football and other athletic events.

"We think if we cut the square footage we can have $6 million in savings," Shell said.

One question posed in the meeting was about the significant increase in square footage from the current building.

"Can anyone say that each classroom is exactly the right size," Shell asked the audience. The answer was a resounding "no."

Classrooms with five computers will need an additional 100 square feet according to Shell.

"Teachers are no longer lining students up and having them stay there all day," Shell said.

He reiterated this building will be in use for 40 years.

"Why would you build to the smallest space," he asked.

Board of Education chairman Scott Newman asked how much space could be saved by removing the high school from the building and making it a pre-kindergarten through eighth grade facility, and bus the high school students to Loudon High School.

Shell said about 25,000 square feet could be saved.

The next presenter at the meeting was Scott Gibson with Morgan Keegan & Company investment bankers.

Gibson talked about the money side of the issue: How to fund this school building project.

He provided the joint boards seven options with varying loan amounts and length of time on the payback.