County commission to consider building recommendations

Mary E. Hinds News Herald

The Loudon County Commission is set to consider a proposal by County Commission Chairman Roy Bledsoe Monday regarding the school building program.

Included on the agenda is consideration of a recommendation to the county school board that they begin the program by building a new middle school in Loudon and renovating the Philadelphia School cafeteria. 

At the last commission workshop, Bledsoe introduced the plan. Those two projects, along with a new school in Greenback and the combining of Loudon Elementary and Fort Loudoun Middle School, make up Phase I of the building program voted on and approved by the school board.

At the earlier workshop, Commissioner Austin Shaver said the county should get a legal opinion about whether or not the county commission was allowed to decide or even recommend which projects would be done or if that decision was up to the school board with the role of the county commission being solely to decide how much money can be raised for the building program. 

This proposal may stir controversy since it bypasses a new school for Greenback. Some have said the current Greenback School has been plagued with problems and has been called unsafe.

When Bledsoe first broached his plan at the earlier workshop, he cited overcrowding and the use of trailers to relieve overcrowding at Fort Loudoun Middle School and the too small cafeteria at Philadelphia School as the most pressing needs of the county schools. 

Others said they feel frequent gas leaks, the extreme age of some parts of the building and trailers at Greenback School should put it at the top of the building plan priority list. Bledsoe also said after the two projects, he is recommending the rest of the building program be tackled as soon as time and money allow. 

Lisa Russell, who represents Greenback on the schools board, said she feels what to build should be a decision left up to the school board. "We asked for a number and I think they should allow us to do our jobs with the funds that they can designate for this building plan," she said.  

School board member Gary Ubben said that weight would be given to any recommendation from the county commission but that would not be the deciding factor. "We are subject to the county commission and whatever funding they can provide for us," he said adding he would wait and see just what Bledsoe brings forward. "The question we had asked of them was, given the pennies into the rural debt fund, how much money potentially was available for building. It was our intention to take that number and then develope a plan within that framework of money." 

He also has questions about some of the figures being bandied about as to how much money the commission could provide. "If some of the commissioners are correct, the two projects being recommended should come to about $15 million. If some of the other commissioners are correct there could be as much as $40 million available. If that is the case, then what's happening to the other $25 million? Why are they holding on to that becomes the question."

Commission Bob Franke said while he's glad there is some movement to get the building plan started he's not sure Bledsoe's proposal is the right plan. "I think it is time we get started with the school building program quite frankly. I'm glad to see that maybe we can get this thing moving forward. I don't happen to agree with the limited scope that they are looking at there because I think we can afford more than that," Franke said.  

He also questions if it is the county commission's prerogative to decide what to build. "We can recommend to them or suggest to them what they should do, but really, as far as I'm concerned, it's their call. That's what they're elected to do. We're elected to be the funding body and they're elected to run the school system," he said.  

Franke also questioned why the county seems to get other projects done but always reaches a sticking point when it comes to the county school's building program. "We've done a lot of other good things in the county. I don't understand- - we've built a senior citizens center and taken care of the seniors, we've taken care of the health department and we've gotten another convenience center. We've taken care of everything from the seniors to the trash but we can't seem to take care of our kids," he said.