Need for new Greenback School questioned

Hugh G. Willett,

LOUDON - If the Loudon County Commission's first discussions on the school building plan are any indication, the future of the proposed $47 million program is anything but certain.

Commissioner Nancy Marcus set the tone for the workshop last week with a detailed presentation that questioned the need for a new school at Greenback. The school would cost the county about $30 million, according to the latest estimates.

"Honestly, I'll just confess that I am confused," she said. "For the last four or five years, we have been bombarded over and over with negative information about Greenback School."

Marcus, who holds a doctorate in education and whose husband, Bill, sits on the school board, explained that she was very familiar with the condition of all the schools in the county. She claimed the actual situation at Greenback has been distorted by the media and perhaps others with their own motives.

Starting with the history of the Greenback School in 1939, Marcus outlined the cost and the purpose of more than a half-dozen upgrades to the facilities over the past 70 years, including renovations to the cafeteria/auditorium in 2002 that the county is still paying for.

"All we have heard about Greenback is that nothing has been done," she said. "Only two schools in the county have had more money spent than Greenback."

Commissioner Bob Franke, who represents Greenback, said he was not prepared to offer a proper response to Marcus' claims but pointed out that the amount of money spent on Greenback over the years does not necessarily mean the school is in good condition.

"I think what we've been doing is putting Band-Aids on the problem. We've been throwing good money after bad," he said.

School board member Lisa Russell pointed to several independent studies that concluded the Greenback school should be demolished. Furthermore, schools Director Wayne Honeycutt also recommended that Greenback School be replaced, she said.

"I don't think the condition of that school is just a matter of opinion," she added.

As the commission discussion returned to funding of the program, it was clear that some members were concerned about the need to increase property taxes to fund the building program.

Commissioner Don Miller presented several scenarios to pay for the $47 million program with a 24.5 cent property tax increase. Commissioner Wayne Gardin repeatedly expressed his concern about the need to hold down taxes.

Commissioner Austin Shaver said he believes the program will cost closer to $30 million after competitive bids have been secured. The county could fund such a program without a property tax increase, he said.

County Mayor Doyle Arp encouraged Shaver to put together numbers backing up his "no tax increase" proposal and to present them to the commission at the next meeting.

Without holding a formal vote for or against the building plan, Arp said he would like to continue discussions to get a sense of which way the board is leaning on the plan so that information could be routed back to the school board.