The latest attempt
to get the county school building program funded was delayed
again Monday night as the Loudon County Commission members voted
not to commit to funding Phase I of the program - a decision
that appeared to upset some school board members and parents.
During the public
speaking portion of the agenda, Terry Johnson, the grandmother
of four children attending Greenback School, addressed the
commission. She urged the commissioners to "use the brain God
gave you" and told them Loudon County was becoming a "laughing
Commissioner Bob Franke, who represents Greenback, moved for the
commission to vote to secure funding for the first phase of the
building program which includes a new school in Greenback,
renovations to the Philadelphia School's cafeteria and a new
middle school in Loudon. The original plan included combining
Fort Loudon Middle School and Loudon Elementary, but that fourth
project was put on hold until the new middle school is
Franke walked the commission and the audience through the
highlights of the process that began in 2006 as the county tried
to settle on a plan to update county schools to relieve
overcrowding and renovate or replace buildings that are
Among those on the list, the Greenback School was declared not
salvageable when the Public Building Authority (PBA) recommended
an entirely new school be built since parts of the school date
to the 1930s. The facility is currently a hodgepodge of
renovations and additions. The fire marshal ordered the school
to be put on a fire watch several times because of multiple fire
code violations, Fanke explained. The school has been closed for
a variety of problems over the past four years, including being
closed multiple times due to gas leaks in the past year.
Franke said the county will need to borrow an amount ranging
from $32 to $40 million depending on interest rates. He said the
school board has repeatedly asked the commission for the maximum
amount that would be forthcoming so they can plan accordingly.
He also said he felt some commissioners were using "delaying
tactics" to stall the program and the county runs the risk of
interest rates going up, not to mention increased prices for
Franke said he was willing face the political consequences and
raise property taxes if that's what it takes to get the building
program going. He moved for the county mayor and his staff to
seek out bonds in the amount of approximately $38 to $40
million. Commissioner Austin Shaver seconded the motion.
Franke also said if the county moves now it would be possible to
have the Philadelphia School cafeteria renovations done by next
fall, the new middle school completed by 2011 and a new
Greenback School by 2012.
Commissioner Don Miller spoke up in opposition to the plan. He
said that while he felt all three of the projects were needed
the only way to do all three at once is with a property tax
increase. He also said tax pennies taken from other funds in
this year's budget to put more in the Rural Debt Fund would have
to be put back in order for school employees and county
employees to have the raise they did not get in the current
budget and that other county departments will need more funds as
Miller said he also feared shortfalls in the federal and state
budget would trickle down to the county and the deficit would
have to be made up with county funds.
Shaver said the
plan was to put pennies in the Rural Debt Fund for the building
program and he felt it would be "unwise to take money out of the
Rural Debt Fund." Miller said it would be better to wait six
months before looking for bonds and that such a delay would not
slow down the building program.
The commission has been waiting for the school board to present
refined cost estimates from contractors so the commission would
have a better idea of costs before approving the funding. "Then
we tell the school folks 'here's what we can do,'" Miller said.
Miller said he estimates the county could borrow approximately
$25 million without a tax increase - an amount that could
effectively take a new Greenback School off the ist, which is
projected to cost approximately $26 million. "Merit is preparing
to give us refined cost figures," said Greenback School Board
representative Lisa Russell after the meeting. She added if the
refined figures come in lower a new Greenback School could still
be within reach, but the rest of Phase I could not be done at
the same time.
Shaver said the role of the commission is to "do what is
necessary for the citizens of Loudon County" and the real
question is, do the county schools need Phase I of the building
program. He said the answer to that is "yes we do." He added
that, if all waste is eliminated from the county budget and
there still isn't enough money to fund the program, he too would
vote to raise property taxes. "The longer we wait we run the
risk of pricing ourselves out of the market," Shaver said adding
that the financial market is "unlikely to get better."
After more debate, the commission voted and Franke's motion
failed by a 7 to 3 with Miller, Gardin, Chris Park, Roy Bledsoe,
Earlena Maples, Nancy Marcus and David Meers voting against the
motion. Franke, Shaver and Harold Duff voted in favor of the
The large audience, composed of many Greenback residents,
stormed out of the meeting after the vote was taken.
Russell said a lack of foresight has lead to Greenback School
deteriorating and the county being forced to put more money in a
school that's on its last legs. "Had the county commission and
the school board listened to the PBA study in 2006 and built a
Greenback School, we wouldn't be sitting here, our children
wouldn't have to be dealing with life-safety issues and we
wouldn't have to be consistently putting tax-payer dollars into
that school," she said.