By Collin Brooks
The Johnson City School System has their needs tallied in a document called Project 2030, a flexible outline of the school systems capital needs as they proceed toward that year.
The board is using the plan as its guiding light as they look to tackle some of the systems over $74 million of possible capital needs.
A big bulk of that money —$16.8 million — is designated for 2017, although much of it has not been earmarked for it. That is similar to the $4 million designated for 2016 that was to be put toward the top priority for the Johnson City Board of Education and city in a cafeteria and gymnasium for Liberty Bell.
BOE Chairman Tim Belisle said that while it hasn’t been publicly voted on, the sentiment from the board is that the number one priority is getting the Liberty Bell students out of Freedom Hall.
“It’s been a big thing since I have been on the board,” Belisle said. “While it works, sharing those facilities at Freedom Hall is just not ideal for education. We need to have our own facilities, that we can control and that we can use for just ourselves.”
Johnson City School’s Supervisor of Instruction and Facilities Dave Chupa said that security is the number one concern for students, and having such an open arena, just isn’t the safest scenario.
“You have groups going in there to do things and ETSU has taken a major portion of use that they didn’t have in the past. It would just be so much cleaner, as far as daily operations, if it was part of our school as opposed to it being something that we are sharing,” Chupa said.
The plan is now to build a facility on an open lot at the Liberty Bell campus. However, the city must wait on county dollars to be bonded, in order for them to receive their allotted share according to the Basic Education Program formula, before they can set their own budget. And city officials still aren’t sure how much they will receive from the Washington County School building projects, although the latest indication from the county was around $29 million.
“We don’t have the ability, independently from the city or the county, to generate funds for capital projects or really for anything,” Belisle said. “Until we know how much we are getting from the county, we don’t know how much we may need to ask the city for. So, that is definitely a factor, for sure.”
Chupa said that also gets in the way for planning construction for the city.
“In the past we’ve always known what we could count on from Washington County, we just don’t know what we are going to be able to count on from Washington County, so it’s a bit of a dilemma,” he said. “You can go ahead and do planning, but you may be stopped in your tracks because those dollars don’t come along.”
The original planning meetings for the Liberty Bell project have been completed and the overall design is sketched out, now they will talk more about the internal design of the structure and get faculty input as to how they will use the space.
The Project 2030 plan was embarked on in 2015 as a “new pathway to the best education. It is a comprehensive plan to reassign school zones to maximize use of school space, build classrooms at Lake Ridge, classrooms at Woodland and a new school on the north side. Also discussed in the plan is a new intermediate school and elementary school on the south side of the city.
Belisle said that he hoped the board would start to address the needs, once Dr. Steve Barnett is brought on as the system’s new superintendent on July 1. With Barnett currently serving as principal at Towne Acres, Chupa and Belisle agreed that his learning curve may be less steep, given his familiarity.
The Johnson City Board of Education officially approved their contract offer for Barnett on Monday night.
For full Project 2030 plan click here