Vote on Jonesborough school plan delayed for 10 days

Robert Houk • Oct 18, 2019 at 12:00 AM

A vote by the Washington County Commission on a new K-8 school and sports complex in Jonesborough has been delayed until Oct. 28 after commissioners were told Thursday the county is still trying to nail down the actual cost of the project and determine the county’s ability to cover that expense.

Culver Schmid, an attorney with the law firm Baker Donelson, said it is the “one issue” still unresolved between the county and the town of Jonesborough. He told commissioners at a special called meeting that he and attorneys with the town hope to have the terms of the leases settled by the time the board gathers for its regular meeting later this month.

“If anything goes wrong, it’s the county that pays the bill,” Schmid said.

He said the current lease proposal has the cost of the construction project set at $34 million. Schmid said “both sides were working to get that number down.”

Preliminary negotiations on the lease agreements where based on the county paying an annual lease for facilities that the town would finance and build at a cost of no more than $32 million for a 20-year term. County Mayor Joe Grandy told commissioners the county has “enough pennies” on the current property tax rate designated in its capital projects fund to cover that amount.

At $34 million, Grandy said the county would be required to re-examine its capital funding list to determine if other “projects will have to be sacrificed.” He also told commissioners that extending the length of the leases (38 years was one figure cited) would also allow the county to “free up” funding to share with Johnson City schools.

Schmid repeatedly told commissioners at their meeting Thursday that if the project is terminated at any key point, the county would be responsible for covering all costs occurred up to that time. 

Once the county completes the term of its leases for the school and the sports complex, it has the option of purchasing both properties at “a nominal fee of $1.”

The four-part agreement includes an inter-local agreement (which was approved by the county’s Board of Education in September), a lease for the school building, a lease for the sports complex and a purchase-option agreement.

Before beginning discussion on the lease agreements, commissioners heard from parents, grandparents and county teachers who urged them to support the Jonesborough school project.

“We’ve waited for three years,” Sonja Greer, the mother of three children, told commissioners. “Please put aside your fears and personal agendas and do the right thing.”

Shannon Tate said she was a mother of a 1st-grader at Jonesborough Elementary, and has two other children who will start school next year.

“I want them to have the best learning experience possible,” she said.

Before adjourning, Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest told commissioners he was confident they could come back “in 10 days and approve this thing.” He also noted town officials and school board members should also be on hand at the meeting “to celebrate” its passage.