County BOE debates future of old buildings

Author: Tammy Cheek
Source: News-Herald

While Loudon County Board of Education awaits news of final bids on current building projects, members pondered Thursday what they should do with the existing Fort Loudoun Middle, Loudon Elementary and Greenback schools.

Jason Vance, director of schools, was not prepared to give information on construction bids, but said he thinks the BOE should start considering what it will do with surplus properties.

"I know where I would like the board to start at, but this could potentially take some time, and we need to invest some time to make sure we are going in the right direction," Vance said.

"We don't need to make any decisions today, but we need to start down that road and have a really good game plan," he added.

When the new school in Loudon is built and Fort Loudoun students exit the existing middle school structure, "We need to have kids ready move into the current middle school building. That building does not need to stand vacant.

"I'm hoping in the summer of 2013, we will be open and ready to move into it based on our time frame," he said.

Vance said there are several options for Loudon Elementary and Fort Loudoun Middle School.

The board talked about combining the two schools, renovating the structures and adding an administrative wing in the middle. Another option is to keep the buildings separate with the pre-kindergarten through second grade in one school and grades 3-5 in the other.

"I would believe it would be appropriate to have two different principals," he said.

Meanwhile, another option is to leave the buildings as they stand and add a corridor between to make the travel for support staff easier.

"A lot is going to hinge on how much we have left of the $43 million," he said. "We need to see how much we have left of the adequate facilities tax as well."

Board member Van Shaver said the school system needs to use the money as efficiently as possible.

"We can plan all that but it takes money," Shaver said. "I don't know how we can logically take any steps until we know what money we got. It's good to be talking about it, but we don't want to spook the commission and make them think that we are spending another $43 million on this. It's my opinion the board should push in using that money in its entirety."

Board member Gary Ubben noted that "after next Thursday, we will have a clear idea how much we will need."

Craig Simon, board member, said he thinks it makes sense to be ready when the new school is built.

The board discussed whether or not to keep Greenback's gym. While Vance recommended demolishing most of the school, he thinks there are several reasons for keeping the gym. It will, however, need a new roof.

Board Chairman Scott Newman was against keeping any of the building.

"We're not going to spend another penny," Newman said. "I say, give it back to the county rather than throw more money into it. That was the contention of getting a new school."

"I want to gut it ... except for the Roosevelt plaque," Shaver said, adding that he wants to keep the plaque.

Board member Ric Best suggested keeping the gym and charging a facility user fee for its use to offset the costs of keeping it.

Bill Marcus reminded fellow board members about past gas leaks in the school.

"I think about the problems we had out there," Marcus said. "I don't know why anyone in this room would consider keeping the building. Are there no more gas leaks?"

Simon said keeping the structure would be throwing good money after bad.

Newman warned that a vacant building can be a temptation for vandals and thieves. "It will invite trouble," he said.

"I think its time to walk away from it," Marcus said.

In an unrelated matter, the board discussed a retirement incentive program designed to save money.

Best proposed the board investigate offering a retirement incentive for certified employees of the school system who have 30 years service with the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System. There are 36 employees who are eligible to take advantage of the plan and the average pay for those 36 is about $51,000.

"I don't see it as being very beneficial. I see it as costly," Shaver said. He recommended allowing retirees to simply keep health insurance.

Vance said the retirement committee had received the proposal Thursday and is studying it.

The board again discussed keeping workshop meetings. Vance said he did not intend for the board to completely do away with all workshops but he noted some members did not think they needed to have one every month.

Some members of the audience and the board noted that they saw a need for monthly workshops.

Shaver said he thinks the board should keep the workshops, pointing out that he wants to see the items needing a decision before holding the regular board meeting.

Residents Pat Hunter, Richard Truett and Pandora Vreeland said they think it is important for the public to have access to information available at the workshops.

In other business, the board:

Got an update from Vance on the Ameresco survey done to look at ways schools can save money on energy.

Discussed recognizing For the Ford Retiree Book Club and Walmart for their donations of books.

Went over the director's teacher evaluation models.