Continued revisions for Greenback School frustrate some

School-building program in Loudon repeatedly delayed

Hugh G. Willett

The Loudon County Commission's decision Monday to approve $250,000 for revised plans for a new Greenback School opens another chapter in an on-again, off-again school building program.

Schools director Wayne Honeycutt told the commission downsized plans for Greenback as proposed by the school system will save $6 million to $8 million in construction costs.

School administrators also have agreed to look at downsizing other parts of the building program, envisioned with two phases.

The first phase includes the new Greenback School, improvements to the cafeteria at Philadelphia School and a new Fort Loudoun Middle School. The second phase includes renovations to Highland Park Middle School and perhaps a new school on U.S. Highway 321.

Since 2006 Loudon County has allocated more than $2 million with two architectural firms on drawings and construction plans for the building program.

Some county commissioners question the wisdom of the delays and continued revisions to plans that have already been paid for.

"I'm getting tired of this," Commission Chairman Roy Bledsoe said before he voted to fund revised plans out of the Adequate Facilities Tax fund.

Commissioner Austin Shaver voted to pay for the revisions but questioned whether further delays would be cost effective.

"Sooner or later you have to ask, where do we cut it off?" he said.

Debate over the Loudon County building program has translated into controversy over funding all or part of the first and second phase. Building new schools will require a property tax hike.

Jason Vance, assistant schools director, who replaces Honeycutt as director July 1, said shrinking the size of some of the projects will save the county a lot more money.

More importantly, reducing the program to a more realistic scope was necessary to secure funding from the County Commission, he said.

"We're trying not to place an undue burden on the taxpayer," Vance said.

Continued changes through the years have also led to disagreement over the amount the county has been billed by Community Tectonics, the Knoxville architectural firm that drew up plans. The firm says it is owed $181,000 for work on the original Greenback plans, Honeycutt said.

"Our attorneys are looking at that," he said.

Community Tectonics CEO Don Shell said that his firm will ultimately be paid 5 percent of the cost of completed work. In the meantime, his firm needs to be compensated for work already completed on the original plans for a larger Greenback School.

"We completed one set of plans and we are going to create a new set of plans," he said.

More changes to the plans for other schools in phase one and phase two may be coming.

Commissioner David Meers suggested Monday that the school board and administration look at downsizing plans for the new middle school that was to be included in phase one.

Loudon resident Pat Hunter said she is concerned that the school board budget committee did not vote to revise the plans for Greenback. The request came from the central office and went directly to County Commission, she said.

"I'm concerned that procedures are not being followed and money is being wasted," she said.

Plans have also been drawn up for improvements at Loudon Elementary and Highland Park School as part of phase two of the building program even though the school board has had trouble convincing commission to fund phase one of the program.

Ultimately, if phase two of the program is revised or downsized, the money used for those original plans will be wasted, Hunter said.

"We can't throw money away that easily," she said.