Loudon officials discuss school construction priorities

Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com

LOUDON — The Loudon County school board met in a workshop Wednesday to prioritize future school building projects, including the disposition of the old Greenback School.
“We have to come up with a plan that we can sell to county commission,” Schools Director Jason Vance told the board.
Board members identified high-priority capital projects that will be presented to the commission for funding, including $6.5 million in additions at Loudon High School, a $5 million addition to the Highland Park School and improving the traffic flow at Eaton Elementary School and North Middle School.
The question of refurbishing the Greenback gym or building a new field house was given a high priority and became the topic of extended discussion. The old Greenback school and gym will be vacated when the new $24 million school is completed in early 2014.
Replacing the roof on the Greenback gym is estimated at about $108,000. Bringing the building up to compliance with state and local codes might cost hundreds of thousands more, board members said. An alternative would be to build a new field house at a cost of as much as $500,000.
Vance pointed out that putting any money into the old Greenback school would be problematic and not likely to be looked upon favorably by the county commission or the Fire Marshal’s Office. “The community has been saying that it’s old and antiquated, but now you want to go back and renovate,” he said.

Board member Gary Ubben said that it was his understanding that the Fire Marshal’s Office had been going easy on the issues at Greenback on the notion that the old building would be abandoned once the new school was ready.
Board member Leroy Tate said he was surprised that anyone would consider putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into the old Greenback buildings. He pointed out that the county still has $2 million in debt to pay off for renovations to Greenback that were made in the 1990s. “I want to know how we can spend more money when we were told years ago that it should be condemned.” Tate asked.
The alternative to the renovation of the old gym would be the construction of a new field house at a cost of about $500,000. Loudon High School might also need a new field house at a similar cost.
Board Chairman Bobby Johnson Jr. said political considerations might dictate priorities. He said that Loudon High School might be a priority, but it was also necessary to prioritize projects in the north end of the county to get support from commissioners there. “If you don’t have something from up there at the top of the list, it’s done,” he said.