It's All About Greenback

Sometimes, even the obvious has to be said.

Those who have been following the school building process at all have to be scratching their heads and asking what in the world is going on. How complicated could it be to build a couple of schools? You're not alone. Many of us are asking the same question.

A building plan has been developed, the money has been set aside, and yet, no buildings. So, what's the hold up? As badly as I hate to say it, it's all about Greenback.

For reasons that I can not explain, there is a certain faction within the school board and the commission who are absolutely opposed to building a new school at Greenback. It's just a simple fact.

For more than five years now, the school board has been trying to get a building plan off the ground, thus far without success.

The building discussions really got rolling back in 2005 when school board administrators developed a system wide growth projection report. It had some really high projection that were questioned by both commissioners and some board members. The first building plan that was developed based on the in-house study came in at a whopping $105 million dollars. Included in that building plan was a new K-12 school at Greenback. That plan died under it's own weight.  The second building plan was proposed in November 2007. Price tag, $138 million dollars. The plan included a new school at Greenback. Voting against this plan were Bill Marcus, Leroy Tate and two now former board members. The cost quickly shot down this plan. The third and current plan was proposed in January 2009 at an estimated cost of $47 million. The current plan includes a new school in Greenback. Board members Bill Marcus, Leroy Tate and Gary Ubbin voted against the current building plan.

The 2005 in house study - now considered flawed - prompted commissioners to ask for a real study to be preformed to get a better understanding on past, current, and future needs of the school system. Commissioners and board members agreed to hire an outside, independent firm to do an in depth study of the entire school system to determine shortfalls and future needs of the system and bring back recommendations for the two governing bodies. They felt hiring an outside firm would take the politics out of the decision process. Commission and the school board agreed to split the $46,000.00 it would cost to hire the Knox City/County Public Building Authority (PBA), a public, non-profit company.

The much anticipated PBA study was released on March 1, 2007. The report was an all-encompassing, detailed report of the school system's current and future needs based on past and current enrollments, facility structures, county population projections, and many other factors. Not surprisingly, Greenback was found to be the worst structural facility in the system. The PBA recommendation was for an entirely new school building in Greenback. In fact, the study did not recommend any other new schools but did recommend several additions and renovations to existing schools.

 Click Here For The PBA Study.

Some on the school board and in the system outright rejected the findings of the PBA study simply because it didn't support their opinions. So, in an attempt to blunt the findings of the PBA study pertaining to Greenback, the school board voted to hire another firm to do a feasibility study of the Greenback school. Community Tectonics Architects was hired for $5,000.00 to do the full assessment of the entire Greenback facility to determine what, if any, portions of the aging building could be salvaged and used rather than building an entirely new building. Several board members had argued that abandoning the entire facility for a new school was the wrong way to go and would cost too much. Rather, they wanted to build a new K-8 and renovate the old building for the high school.

The Feasibility Study was released on June 14, 2007. The study came back with three different options: 1) Build an entirely new school; 2) Build a new K-8 and renovate the old building for the high school; or 3) Build a new K-12 and remodel portions of the old building for use as the vocational school. Again, not surprisingly, the new study found that nearly half of the old school could not be remodeled or upgraded simply due to its age and condition. The study examined the entire building, including the original building built in 1939, and the additions of 1949, 1960, 1973, 1977, 1989, 1998, and 2002. The study found that to build a new K-8 and renovate and expand the current facility would cost approximately six million dollars more than an entirely new school. Seems like a pretty simple decision. The Feasibility Study, like the PBA study, was rejected by those who continue to oppose a new Greenback school.

No one with a grain of common sense could argue against the need for a new school for Greenback. Yet some still do, some openly and some behind the scenes. The most vocal opponents of a new Greenback school have been board member Bill Marcus and his wife, commissioner Nancy Marcus.

Back in February commissioner Nancy Marcus went on a forty-five minute diatribe at a county commission meeting laying out her argument against a new school. Rather, she supported a new K-6 and renovation of the old building for 7-12. That's the plan according to the feasibility study that costs six million more than a whole new school. Mrs. Marcus quoted a slew of facts and figures to support her positions that were dubious at best and utterly wrong at worst. Again, at the April commission meeting, Mrs. Marcus recited her opposition to the new school in Greenback.

At a past board meeting, board member Leroy Tate said he still felt unsure about the wisdom of building an entirely new K-12 school in Greenback. He advocated building a K-8 school in Greenback and using the existing building for the high school.  Again, ignoring the feasibility study.

At a recent commission meeting, commissioner David Meers stated that he wouldn't support the building plan till the school board could tell him what we would do with the old school building at Greenback if we built a new one. I'm not even sure what that means. How on earth could the board make such a determination of how to dispose of the old building when it doesn't appear we will ever build a new one? According to the feasibility study nearly half of the existing building should be demolished.

At a recent commission workshop county mayor Doyle Arp told commissioners that the reason I was supporting a new school at Greenback was to get votes in the upcoming election. I can only assume from his statement that he feels no new school is needed at Greenback. There are other elected officials who oppose the new school but who have not been as out spoken. I know I and other board members and commissioners have been lobbied to abandon the new school plan for Greenback.

We now have two independent studies ($51,000.00 worth) that recommend a new school for Greenback. Two different school boards have voted to build a new school at Greenback. The past and present directors of schools have recommended a new school for Greenback. The county commission has set aside funding for the current building program, which includes a new school in Greenback. Yet, the entire building program seems to be held up because it has a new school for Greenback.

Sections of the Greenback school are 60, 50, 39, 32 years old. No other school in the system even comes close to this. No other school has had to have firemen walking the halls for fire watch during school hours. No other school in the system has been closed multiple times for gas leaks. Currently there are five doublewides on site to handle the overcrowding. Other schools in the system also have overcrowding problems but no other schools in the system are faced with the life safety issues we have at Greenback.

It's inexplicable how there can be anyone who could oppose a new school at Greenback. It's not as if we have to pick one over the other - at least not yet. So, why the opposition? Do the children in Greenback not deserve the same decent facilities as the children in our other schools?  Do the parents in Greenback not deserve the same level of safety and security for their children as the parents at our other schools? I think they do. 

This blind obsession that some seem to harbor against a new school for Greenback has apparently brought the entire building program to a standstill. It's time for petty politics to end. It's time for everyone to put aside their own personal and political agendas and do what's right. We all know the old Greenback school is just a ticking time bomb. Let's defuse it now. For goodness sake, let's do what's right.