“I’m thankful that the citizens of Loudon County are putting education first,” said senior Katie King, to a crowd of nearly 100 people gathered in a field adjacent to the current school that was originally built in the 1930s. Officials later built additions in the ’40s and 2003.
During the past decade, Greenback School had started to show its age.
Studies declared the current school building unsafe and outdated. However, Loudon County officials couldn’t agree on a plan for replacing the building.
In November 2007, the Fire Marshal’s Office imposed a fire watch on Greenback School. For the next six months, firefighters had to patrol the building daily.
Officials later installed a new heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) unit, which put Greenback School back in good standing with the state.
However, gas leaks and other safety concerns persisted over the next several years.
In January 2010, school board members voted in an emergency session to indefinitely close Greenback School until mechanical engineers could inspect the school’s gas lines and address any issues. The school was closed for nearly one week.
In June, the Loudon County Commission approved a 20-cent property tax increase to support a school building program. The tax rate increased from $1.58 to $1.78 per $100 assessed value.
Greenback School is part of a $43 million building program, which includes a new middle school and Philadelphia Elementary School’s cafeteria renovations.
Officials hope to open the new Greenback School in fall 2013. The 145,000-square-foot, K-12 school is currently estimated at $22.5 million.
The new Greenback School will serve the community for 50-60 years, said school board member Bobby Johnson Jr.
Officials must adhere to scheduled preventative maintenance for the new school, so it doesn’t fall into disrepair like the current building, said board member William Jenkins.
Citizens step up
During the groundbreaking ceremony, county, school and state officials thanked citizens for supporting the tax increase.
“This groundbreaking has been almost seven years in the making,” Johnson said.
“This is the beginning and culmination of many people’s work,” said County Commissioner Bob Franke. “We knew our county schools needed upgrading in terms of facilities. The citizens of Loudon County knew it as well, and I can’t tell you how much this means. People actually stood up and cheered when we raised taxes.”
“It’s beyond words that Loudon County has finally stepped up for our community,” said Greenback Vice Mayor Sam Jackson. “I’d like to thank the citizens of Loudon County for raising taxes to support education like it should be funded. It’s a blessing to see how much they care for us.”
Elected officials and community members were instrumental in helping the school become a reality, he said. “We fought real hard and went to almost every County Commission and school board meeting. The people of Greenback kept stepping up and fighting until the very end. It was a total battle, and it’s nice to see this come to fruition.”
“We start today by putting shovels in the ground, but we can see the vehicles behind us,” said the Rev. Ron Sabo. “We know this school will impact generations to come. Father, we thank you.”
Most students are excited about the new school.
“Future students are going to get more opportunities than I did, which will make it easier when they’re trying to enroll in college,” said senior Jacob McCarter. “We don’t have a lot of AP (Advanced Placement) classes, and we don’t have a lot of higher level math or science courses. Greenback will have room for more classes soon, and students will reap the rewards.”
“We have a small science lab right now, and we don’t turn on the gas,” King said. “We’re afraid that it could set off the alarms. My little sister and the thousands of students who walk through these halls will be fortunate to use these new labs. It’s putting us at a disadvantage.”
Former Greenback students have reported problems in their college-level science courses, because they don’t have actual lab experience, she said.
“I’m very pleased that future students will have more opportunities than me. However, I’ve enjoyed my time here and wouldn’t take it back for anything. We’ve got a great academic program. With new facilities, we could be ranked next to Maryville High School,” King said.
Couldn’t ask for more
Many community members were overwhelmed by Saturday’s groundbreaking.
“It’s something our kids can benefit from in the future, in addition to simply being safer,” said Josh Alexander, who graduated from Greenback School in 1998. He currently sends his two children to Vonore Elementary School.
“When the school is built, my kids will be over wearing the orange and black,” he said. “I’m real excited that they’ll be going to Greenback. As a community member, I’d like to thank everyone for coming together and making this happen. I couldn’t ask for anything else as a parent.”