Jonesborough school on hold, but technology funding for new schools not a concern

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A rendering of the Boones Creek K-8 provided to the News & Neighbor by Beeson, Lusk and Street, Inc. Architects.

By Collin Brooks

The close to $7 million shortfall that may force the Jonesborough K-8 project to delay it’s opening until 2021, will not affect either Jonesborough or the Boones Creek K-8 from being technology demonstration schools.

While funds have not been designated to equip the schools with state of the art technology, Washington County Director Kimber Halliburton was reassuring during an interview with the News & Neighbor and said that the schools technology demonstration status is still on target.

The Washington County Board of Education decided on Monday, Feb. 13, to build the Boones Creek at a price they had recently settled on, without many cuts. Deciding to keep the metal roof, chiller and boiler units and possibly an auxiliary gym, at a cost of $26.8 million with the added $1.8 million contingency.

That is down from the close to $30 million that was discussed when the Washington County Commission voted for a tax increase over the summer.  That number was deemed unrealistic when it came to funding, even with the 24 cents of the 40-cent property tax increase. During the BOE’s meeting on Monday, they also voted to release the request for proposals to be bid out by Burleson Construction, the construction management firm for the school system, which will be a 5-week process.

The technology for those schools — which include classrooms that have laptops for every student, close to five iPads, cameras, audio enhancement and interactive panels —will cost anywhere from $1 million to $1.5 million. While a large number, it isn’t concerning for Halliburton. She said there are multiple avenues that could be pursued in trying to secure that money.

One scenario being that the school system may be able to sell the land that is available in front of Jonesborough Middle School and the Boones Creek Middle School property and generate a few million dollars.

Four parcels in front of Jonesborough Middle School could bring in just under $2 million, while the Boones Creek Middle School property may also bring in close to the same amount. Federal dollars could also be an option, as both Boones Creek and Jonesborough are each Title I schools.

“I don’t think it is as dire of a situation if you’re an outsider looking in and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, we are over budget,’” Halliburton said.

Even if there was concern, Halliburton said that not all technology has to be installed on day one.

“A technology demonstration school doesn’t have to have everything,” she said. “You could certainly do a laptop cart for two classrooms to share. So you can build on it over time And if you think about it, the first year, your enrollment is going to be lowest, so you’re going to build the technology over time with more funding.”

Budget Committee Chairman Joe Grandy said that he was a bit concerned that the technology has yet to be addressed in the new schools, but he is confident that money will be found.

“We are going to have to find a way to fund the technology,” Grandy said. “I don’t think we spend this much money on bricks and mortar, without the consideration of making it the best possible school you could make it.”

Grandy said that he believed the money would be found in the construction estimates, because he feels like the county will come back from the bid market with favorable numbers, given the competitive atmosphere right now for construction.

He hoped some of that savings would come in the $4.4 million estimate to grade the school’s part of the land.

Other technology projects have been funded this year by the county commission, including $640,000 for the county schools to purchase interactive panels for some classrooms including the ClearTouch Panels. The county commissioners also funded $316,000 — which the system hopes they will get two more times — to install audio enhancements in the lower grade levels.

Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said he hasn’t seen specifically what the system expects in each classroom, but he has seen a number identified at $1.5 million per school to furnish the technology. He said that after the school board has decided on the structure, he expects the county commission will see what each classroom will have.

“We need to see how the technology that they plan to implement has been incorporated into the design,” Eldridge said.

On Monday night, the BOE saw the first renderings from architect Tony Street on what a new Jonesborough K-8 and magnet school might look like. It included two entrances, with the main entrance for the K-8 coming in off of Main Street. The entrance for the magnet school would be in-between Pal’s and Bojangles, with the current main entrance for the current middle school being sealed off.

The “hurried plans”, as they were described by Street — in order to get a quick estimate on costs — would take the round part of the school and divide it into 25 classrooms that would house most of the K-4 population of the school.

Washington County Director of Finance Mitch Meredith answered questions from the BOE at the meeting and said that the only feasible way to complete both of the projects, would be to delay the Jonesborough and magnet school a year.

“Pushing the magnet and some of the Jonesborough renovations out a year or so and then the cash flow and funding mechanism will help soften the blow,” Meredith said. “I don’t know that we will be able to fully cover this $7 million shortfall by doing that. But we are in the process of crunching some numbers.

“I’m not saying it’s not do-able, but without some change in the schedule, it is going to be impossible.”

Meredith said that he was going to run models during the next couple of weeks to see what will work.


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