The Loudon County
School Board's Building and Maintenance Committee's recent
meeting turned into a frank discussion of the real issues
preventing the system's building program from getting off the
The meeting, which usually attracts few spectators, was attended
by several county residents who came to voice their opinions and
ask questions. School board members Bobby Johnson, Jr. who
chairs the committee, Steve Harrelson and Gary Ubben along with
Lisa Russell, were questioned by Dr. Ken Wahl about the hold up
in getting a new school in Greenback.
Wahl described the situation there as "disastrous" adding he
held the school board responsible for allowing a school he
described as dangerous to continue to operate. "I don't know how
some people go to sleep at night," Wahl told the board members
adding that some in Greenback are considering a class action
suit to force the county to replace the school in light of
recent life safety issues including several gas leaks in recent
months. He said he feared that would do more harm than good.
Johnson took exception to Wahl's assumption that the school
board is the hold up. He told Wahl he was "preaching to the
choir" about the situation at Greenback School. "The board
approved multiple times to get this built. This board approved
it but how do you get the commission to pass the money?" Johnson
said adding "You can't get the county commission to support
Greenback." "They wouldn't even agree to look at interest
rates," said Terry Johnson, who works as a substitute teacher at
Greenback School. She also said she was dismayed that some
county commissioners claim they don't know what the school board
wants to build. "Has that not been made clear?" she asked.
Ubben pointed out part of the problem is the upcoming election.
He said School Board Chairman Scott Newman's plan to have a
combined meeting between the school board and the county
commission would be fruitless unless the commission sees there
is community support for the building plan. "It has to be
community driven at this point," Ubben said.
The Rev. Ron Sabo, who lives in Greenback and has children in
that school, has long been an outspoken advocate of replacing
the building - parts of which were built during the Roosevelt
Administration."Your authority has been trashed," he told the
school board members and added it is "hogwash" that
commissioners don't know what the school board wants to build
when Phase I of the building program has been discussed many
times at meetings and in the local media. "They are failing this
county," Sabo said of the county commission. He said the state
of the schools effects "the health of the whole county" and that
while the county can offer tax breaks the "schools stink" and
that would keep people from moving to the county or locating
their businesses here.
The school board recently asked the county commission to come up
with an amount the county could finance to begin Phase I of the
building program - a new school in Greenback, a new middle
school in Loudon, the renovation of the cafeteria in
Philadelphia and the combining of Loudon Elementary and Fort
Loudoun Middle School - but the commission opted to attempt to
schedule a joint meeting between the commissioners and the
school board to clarify the situation. Phase I of the building
plan is estimated to cost approximately $47 million. Thus far
the combined meeting has yet to be scheduled.
Director of Loudon County Schools Wayne Honeycutt said he has
been speaking with Loudon County Mayor Doyle Arp and Honeycutt
said he guessed the commission would be willing to finance "not
$47 million" but "about half that amount" he said adding that
was just "Wayne's opinion."
Ubben said if the commission agrees to an amount between $25 and
$30 million the board would have to decide what to do with the
money and choose between the different projects in Phase I. He
said three different areas of the county are competing for those
dollars."The three areas are in conflict," Ubben said adding,
"Something's going to have to be dropped - the new Greenback
School or the new middle school, the big projects."
Wahl said the question of where to spend any available funds
should be answered by asking "are the teachers and students
physically safe in the Greenback School? Are the others that bad
and are they in physical danger every day?" Ubben asked why he
felt students at Greenback are in physical danger. "You have to
ask that?" Terry Johnson replied.
Bobby Johnson said he kept hearing the county commission would
agree to finance $20 million. "I think that's what is going to
happen," he told the group. Terry Johnson said people in
Greenback feel any money available would be spent "on this side
of the river."
Ubben pointed out that the county has spent a lot of money on
the numerous repairs necessary just to keep the doors of
Greenback School open and the fire marshal satisfied including
several gas leaks and the air conditioning. "It works against us
that we've spent money in Greenback," he said.
Harrelson agreed that after investing in the patchwork repairs
at Greenback, commissioners who seem opposed to a new school
there would use that investment as another reason for opposing
the project. Johnson agreed saying some commissioners will say
the county has put so much money into it it can't be walked away
There was some discussion about trimming the Greenback School
project to fit the amount the commission approves. Johnson said
the committee has looked at the idea of "getting the costs down
while not shortchanging Greenback in the process."
Ubben said that while "we're all in favor of Greenback" the
amount of money from the commission would determine what could
be done. "Why do they have that authority," Sabo asked adding
the commission was only in charge of funding the projects not of
how the money is to be spent.
Bobby Johnson acknowledged that was technically true but
"they'll keep their hand on it." Ubben agreed the commission
wouldn't give the board $30 million unless they can control
it."Their holding up everything by holding up Greenback," Terry
Ubben said it looks like the commission wants to "direct,
influence and control what we can build" and he added when the
school board voted on what projects would be in Phase I of the
building program no one of the four projects was prioritized as
first. "If they give us $20 million they still control what
we're gonna do," Bobby Johnson said.
Ubben also acknowledged what he called the elephant in the room
- that the problem is a political one and that "some people just
don't want to build a new school in Greenback."
Bobby Johnson agreed telling the Greenback residents in
attendance, "It's not us - if we could fund it you'd already
have a school." He added the real problem is some commissioners
"don't like Greenback, period." "If kids are killed in Greenback
you guys are going to suffer," Wahl warned the school board
members. Bobby Johnson, Jr. said he constantly fears something
Terry Johnson said many in Greenback are starting to feel there
is a "vendetta" against them. Ubben said that was not
constructive at this point. "We need to look for solutions not
complaints," he said adding it wasn't people in Greenback that
need to be convinced about the need for a new school there, it's
the rest of the county. "Greenback people talking to each other
isn't solving the problem," Ubben said.