‘It’s done’: Jonesborough expects school plan agreement to be finalized by end of week

Jonathan Roberts • Nov 11, 2019 at 9:06 PM

After months of negotiation, Jonesborough expects its K-8 school plan to be finalized by the end of the week, possibly as early as Tuesday.

“I think we’re down to the last set of changes,” Town Attorney Jim Wheeler said of the negotiations Monday night. “I expect, hopefully tomorrow, that we’ll have finalized documents — I think we’re real close to having it finished.”

The news comes as the Washington County Commission approved a lease-to-purchase agreement with the town of Jonesborough to build a new K-8 school and accompanying sports complex on Oct. 28 after hours of deliberation.

Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest said he thinks the town is “within one minor change” of finalizing the agreement, and that he “expects by Tuesday we’ll get some signatures” on it.

If all parties sign, it’ll be the culmination of nearly three months work since the town first introduced and approved the project in August.

“It’s done,” Wheeler said of the lease agreements.

Still, Jonesborough’s quest to get a new school isn’t over yet.

According to state law, any county bonds issued for schools would necessitate the county share 47.76% of that money with Johnson City students. As the proposal is currently constructed, city schools would not receive any funding resulting from the $32.75 million project.

At the county commission’s Oct. 28 meeting, the city offered a solution: Let it be the “financial conduit” for the project — something County Commissioner Phill Carriger said could save the county $12 million.

During the meeting, commissioners approved the Jonesborough plan’s framework with a 10-4-1 vote, but authorized County Mayor Joe Grandy to negotiate “with the city of Johnson City and the local education agency operating within that municipality to identify the terms that would resolve dispute over the interpretation of the Jonesborough school proposal.”

Vest, however, isn’t worried about Johnson City’s proposal.

“I don’t think it’s much of a proposal, and I don’t think it’s as attractive as the offer we had put out there,” Vest said, adding that the plan is “coming down exactly where I’d always hoped it would be,” and that he’s glad Johnson City is “being patient” and “trust(ing) that the County Commission will help them.”

During Monday night’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting in Jonesborough, two more steps were made toward getting the school project started — approving a school financing agreement and an environmental review mandated by the United States’ Department of Agriculture.

The financing agreement will have Raymond James and Associates serve as the town’s underwriter, and the town expects it’ll be able to secure an interim financing rate to cover costs associated with design, planning and construction at 1.5-1.65%.

The environmental review, meanwhile, will determine if there are any endangered species, historical sites, wetlands mitigation or anything that could prevent the town from building the school on the 48-acre tract of land off North Cherokee Street that has been selected for the school. The town will pay Community Development Partners $5,000 to conduct the review.

Other notes from Monday’s meeting:

Jonesborough will be expanding its town limits by annexing 32.6 acres of property off of Vines Drive. The property, intended to be a residential extension of the Vines Farm Subdivision, is now a Planned Residential District within the town’s corporate limits. Jonesborough will also construct a park to go along with the development.

“It’s definitely a benefit to Jonesborough whenever we can do a PRD,” Vest said.

Christmas in Olde Jonesborough was also approved for a 40th straight year, with festivities beginning with the town’s tree-lighting event, set for Nov. 30 from 5:30-7 p.m. The Jonesborough Christmas parade will be held on Dec. 14, and special events and activities are planned for every Saturday from Nov. 30-Dec. 21.

Town employee Christopher Lawson was named Employee of the Month, and Public Safety Officer Jim Jenkins was promoted to sergeant.