Kicking The Can

Without hesitation, I can honestly say that I have never witnessed a meeting such as the Monday county commission meeting. Of course the big issue was the school building plan. Commissioner Roy Bledsoe had told commissioners at the last workshop that he planned to put forth a recommendation to the commission to remodel/expand the Philadelphia cafeteria and build the new middle school at Loudon. Bledsoe's motion would eliminate the proposed new school for Greenback. That set the stage for a very contentious meeting.

Not surprising, the meeting room was filled with Greenback residents, parents, teachers and even some students. Nearly a dozen individuals spoke at the beginning of the meeting pleading with commission to include a new school for Greenback. Sighting safety concerns, overcrowding and the age/condition of the current facility, each speaker asked for the new school for Greenback. Those request seemed to mostly fall on deaf ears for the most part.

Bledsoe followed through with his motion for just the two projects which then lead to about two hours of back and forth debates, motions and counter motions and amendments. Commissioner Bob Franke who represents Greenback offered an amendment to Bledsoe's motion which would have added Greenback to the motion. Franke's motion failed. When the final vote was taken Bledsoe's motion also failed.

It would be impossible to cover all that transpired during the meeting, but to sum it up what finally passed was a vote that essentially kicks the can down the road for another six months. Commissioner Don Miller made a motion to spend another 1.5 mil. to take the projects to bid. This still without any idea how much money might be available for the building program. This conveniently moves the final decision on the building program beyond the May election.

One year ago next month, the school board presented their plan for the building program to county commission. The school board asked commission to give the board a final and firm number on how much money commission would approve for the building program. Yet, nearly one year later the commission still has not given the board a number, dollar amount. Rather, some commissioners seemed determined to tell the board what and where instead of how much.

In the big picture, the school board probably came out of Monday's meeting the best they could have. At least the Greenback school wasn't killed outright. But it's painfully obvious that there are some commissioners and other elected officials who wouldn't support a new school for Greenback no matter the costs. Who knows, the May election could bring some new faces to county government that might feel differently.

School building program in Loudon gets OK

Commission doesn't address Greenback facility question

Hugh G. Willett
LOUDON - The Loudon County Commission voted Monday night to move forward with funding a school building program while sidestepping the question of a new school in Greenback.

The commission voted 8-2 to recommend the school board get construction estimates for all four projects outlined in the first phase of the building plan. The vote also authorized $1.5 million for architectural plans.

The vote followed an in-depth discussion of a motion proposed by Chairman Roy Bledsoe to recommend the school board build a new middle school in Loudon and renovate the cafeteria at Philadelphia School.

Many Greenback residents were concerned that Bledsoe's motion did not include a proposed new K-12 school for their community, which they and a majority on the school board consider to be a priority because of safety issues.

The commission heard more than an hour of comments from citizens, school board members and school administrators asking the board to give priority to the Greenback project.

Greenback parent Ron Sabo said he was tired of seeing the school building plan bounce back and forth between the commission and the school board. He urged the commission to embrace the program.

Terry Johnson, a grandmother with four children in Greenback School, said the commission has the responsibility to make sure children are taught in a safe environment.

"Why should I have to stand here and plead for you to do your jobs?" she asked.

Greenback resident Ken Wahl said the lack of action on the building program was "a crime against kids."

School board member Gary Ubben asked the commission to move quickly in the decision to fund the building program so the county could take advantage of lower interest rates and competitive bidding because of the national recession.

Following Bledsoe's motion, Commissioner Bob Franke of Greenback asked to amend Bledsoe's motion so that it would include all of the building plan's first phase.

Franke said county leaders would be held responsible by the voters if the building plan did not get under way soon. The county had managed previously to agree on building everything from a new dog shelter to a senior citizens center.

"We've taken care of the seniors. We've taken care of the animals. When are we going to take care of the children?" Franke said.

After a lengthy discussion, the commission voted against Franke's amendment and Bledsoe's motion.

The commission then voted to pass a motion by Commissioner Don Miller to recommend that the school board move get construction plans for all the proposed projects.

The board would still have to return to commission to request funding for the construction of the individual schools. The motion leaves unanswered the question of the priority of the Greenback project.