'A big mess:' Parents voice frustrations about condition of Greenback School

By Matthew Stewart
of The Daily Times Staff

Concerned parents unloaded their frustrations on Loudon County officials at Greenback School Tuesday night about the deteriorating condition of the building.

The aim of the informational meeting was to chronicle the nearly 3-year saga concerning construction of a new Greenback School and explain the delays.

Loudon County Board of Education Chairman Bobby Johnson Jr. said the three studies conducted by the school board and County Commission all show the Greenback community needs a new school. The school's teachers are wonderful, and it is a shame the "quality of the students (does not represent) the quality of the facilities," Johnson said.

Loudon County Commissioner Bob Franke said, it's all "very frustrating. We've been kicking the ball around so long we need to do something. I've been in the military all my life, and I'm not used to this bureaucracy."

Loudon school board member Larry Bass said the board "could have done lots of things but just didn't have the money."

Officials "inherited a big mess," according to Johnson. Action should have been taken 30 years ago, he said.

"We can't go to the past and dwell in it. We have to do what we can to solve the problem," he said. "We're at a stalemate here."

'Embarrassing' conditions

Kenneth Wahl employs five Greenback students on his horse farm, and he said they are the finest young men he has ever met.

"It's unconscionable for kids to be going to a school like this in this day and age," Wahl said.

Johnson said he agrees with Wahl.

"When I come to this school it is embarrassing. It's like it's in the '50s," Johnson said.

Terri Johnson said she thought the meeting was a waste of time.

"We're talking about children's lives here. The problem is a bunch of grown men who can't agree," she said. "The only way to solve the problem is to work together and have the children's interests in mind," Terri Johnson said.

Chairman Johnson said they are trying to fix the problem, but they need the community's help.

"It's not something you solve overnight," he said. Community members need to send letters and e-mails to every Loudon County commissioner voicing their support for the school board's plan if they want things to change.

Teri Grimshaw spoke on behalf of the school's PTO, and she served as a mediator between the community and county officials. After the meeting, Grimshaw said she thought the meeting went well.

"I hate it has to come to this, with the venting and the use of words like deplorable. I trust elected officials will do the right thing," Grimshaw said.

Voicing opinions

After the meeting, Terri Johnson said she felt more at ease.

"This will at least be a start to get something going in the right direction," she said. "It might not be the plan I would have made if I was serving on the board, but I'm willing to be flexible."

Greenback Mayor Tom Peeler said he appreciated the officials coming to listen to the community.

"Bobby (Johnson) is one of the best chairmen we've ever had. He tells it like it is. I admire him for that," he said.

The meeting didn't get out of hand like it could have, and everybody just voiced their opinions, Peeler said.

Chairman Johnson said, after the meeting, that Grimshaw said she plans to talk to other Loudon County PTOs to get things started.

Not every parent, however, left the meeting feeling optimistic. One concerned parent -- who said he has two children attending the school but doubts his fifth-grade daughter will ever see any changes -- left the meeting saying he's "been with the fight for three years and I'm frustrated as all get up."