County leaders to mull future of historic Greenback School

Jeremy Styron-News-Herald

For more than 90 years, Greenback School has stood in its present location as a bedrock of community life, teaching and guiding the development of numerous generations of residents.

Loudon County Board of Education is gearing up for what may prove to be a contentious discussion about the future of the facility as the new school's construction along Highway 95 is set for a January 2014 completion date.

Director of Schools Jason Vance has recently been in contact with a city councilman in Greenback who expressed some preliminary interest in purchasing the old Greenback School property. The city councilman, who has not been named, was acting on his own behalf and not as a representative with the city.

"I'm prepared to speak to anybody that wants to talk about it," Vance said. "Ultimately, we'd like to keep the space because it would be nice to have room for athletic fields and parking and just having land that's adjacent to your school, but if there's a buyer that would want to come in and look at taking over the property at no expense to the Loudon County school system, we would certainly be interested in entertaining that idea."

The main building on the property is about 78,000 square feet, and the land also includes five high school and elementary school portables.

Phil Moffett, a school board representative from Greenback, said the original facility has undergone numerous renovations dating back to the 1960s and '70s. A portion of the building is believed to contain some asbestos.

"I'd like to see the gym fixed where we can use that, and the old property, if this doesn't work out with the people we're talking to, I kind of think it needs to be demolished and made ballfields out of it," Moffett said, noting that one point of contention was the gymnasium that is currently being used by middle and high school sports teams.

Moffett said initial plans for a smaller gym to service younger students was cut from the new construction project.

"It's hard to schedule — you've got middle school, high school, all the kids trying to use the gym at the same time," Moffett said. "Nobody gets to practice enough. You've got the kids trying to practice from early afternoon to late at night to before school trying to make everything work. It's just really different with one gym with a pre-K through 12 (grade) school."

School board member Leroy Tate, whose district is located in Loudon, said once the county vacates the old property, the district should turn the building over to the county as surplus.

"My opinion is that if it wasn't worth fixing the last four or five years we've been hashing (it) about, then I don't think that we should be putting more money into that old building because once you do, you've still got an old building," he said.

Tate said he was one of the main proponents of a smaller gymnasium for middle school students similar to the school district in Midway.

"I tried years ago to get them to build a small metal gym like Midway's got down there until we figured out what we were going to do, and I couldn't get the support for that," Tate said, adding that Loudon County could build some new facilities to accommodate the sports teams more affordably than renovating the old school.

"There's so many codes that (we) would have to come up to code with on that old gym that it just doesn't make good sense," Tate said. "You've still got an old building."

Loudon County Commissioner Bob Franke, who represents the Greenback area, said asbestos and other conditions with the old building would present a challenge in renovating the structure.

"It's not going to be an easy fix I don't think, but I just hope that if they can salvage some of it, which if there is some of it they can use for a good purpose and is very useful for the community as well as the county and whatever they can do with it, I'd like to see some good use put to it — whatever's salvageable anyway," he said.

Moffett said given the age of the building, the community did place some sentimental value on the property as a longtime center of public life.

"The community really kind of hates to see it go," Moffett said. "They really do. There's been generations of families that have gone through that school. It's kind of an emotional thing for the community."

Franke said from his vantage point, opinions on the old school were mixed, noting some old timers did not want to see it torn down.

"It depends on who you talk I guess," Franke said. "I've had some folks tell me that, 'Yeah, they really think (the building should be maintained) because they went there from back in the late '30s or something, and others said, 'Hey, it's better off to tear down and use the space for a playground, parking lot, who knows what.'"

As of early Tuesday, Loudon County Schools had not set a time to discuss the old Greenback School. School officials indicated last week that the board may need a separate workshop to discuss the property.

Vance said while the school system has a lot of time before the new school opens, he warned that "it'll be here before we know it."

"We've got to have a pretty solid plan some time over the next couple months about what are we going to do with the gym," Vance said. "Are we going to keep it or not? And then in addition to that, what are we going to do with the old school itself? Are we going to sell it? Are we going to tear it down? Are we going to keep it? We've got to figure out a plan in order to be able to move forward progressively."