Fire Road funding under Fire


Newly constructed emergency fire road - Gil Luttrell proposes using it for a bus lane, too.


Life Safety vs. Aesthetics   

By: Pat Hunter

September 14, 2008


The News-Less herald forgot to report another important matter. First, at last Monday’s commission meeting when commissioners voted to close, abandon and deed away Holston Rd., a taxpayer's asset, to a developer and now this. At Thursday’s Sept. 11th Loudon County School Board (BOE) meeting, the School Board was about to take action and vote on a $15,000 budget amendment when everything came to a screeching halt.


Previously, at Monday’s Sept. 8th BOE workshop meeting, deputy director – bus transportation Gil Luttrell unveiled his three step plan for a bus lane and loading area. Luttrell proposed using the newly constructed life safety road located behind the modular units “learning cottages” at Loudon Elementary School for a proposed bus lane to help alleviate traffic at Loudon Elem. and Ft. Loudon Middle School.


While the bus lane may be a good idea, there’s only one big problem, money was not budgeted for this purpose. Robbing Peter to Pay Paul, raiding public funds intended to remedy life safety deficiencies at Loudon High School (LHS) to use at another school, just doesn’t make good sense considering that the numerous life safety issues that remain outstanding at Loudon High. How quickly they seem to forget when Loudon High's auditorium was closed last year due to life safety problems! 


At Thursday’s meeting, Tom Hankinson, Career Technical Education (CTE) Director, reported the cost of a fence $877.64 and sidewalk and concrete work 1057.00 (est.), which he estimated to be about $2000. But, this did not include the cost for paving, that cost was additional. To save some cost on the project, someone suggested that the CTE department handle the fencing and concrete work and Hankinson was there to report the cost.


New school board Van Shaver added to the discussion. Shaver thought that separating the school buses from traffic was a good idea but he was not sure how it would work. He said that this was a project and he was concerned about the bidding process and he hoped that bidding the project into two quotes of $4300 and $6900 was not a way to subvert the bid process. According to the purchasing laws and procedures, purchases over $10,000 must be placed on a public bid. Shaver was also concerned about other details of the project, are they going to come back later and ask for more money for seeding, drainage and other work related items, he asked. 


BOE Business manager Bennie Sims approached the podium to present three pages of budget amendments, which he said were discussed at the workshop meeting. Copies of the specific $15,000 amendment were not included in the handouts to the public at Monday's BOE workshop meeting. The amendment included transferring $15,000 from the FIR-LHS (Fire Marshal Loudon High School - Life Safety account) to the FIR-LES (Fire Marshal Loudon Elementary School) for the bus lane.


School board member Steve Harrelson asked, what kind of a timeline are we on? Harrelson made a motion to accept the three pages of budget amendments followed a second from Bobby Johnson, Jr. We're pulling the $15,000 (amendment), aren't we, Shaver asked. 


Former board chairman Bobby Johnson, Jr. gave a brief history about the emergency road, which came about because of the number of portables "learning cottages" while having to meet life safety regulations and requirements. As a side note, the portables sat empty for an entire school year, which was a criticism of commissioners. The cost of trailers to taxpayers was about $500,000. 


What kind of timeline are we facing, Johnson Jr. asked? By not getting this done, is he (fire marshal) going to come hard on us if we don’t get this done? School Director Wayne Honeycutt replied, this is not his suggestion, this is ours.  


New school board member Lisa Russell shared her concerns about life safety issues verses aesthetics. While I realize the convenience of having the road to alleviate the traffic flow problem, she had other concerns. The road could be used for the buses but the road could not be blocked and bus drivers would have to stay with the school buses. Money was given last year for fire marshal deficiencies and Russell was not comfortable taking money out of that fund when she is aware of outstanding deficiencies and other pending deficiencies related to fire alarms and sprinklers issues. Russell commented, we are just at the beginning of this year’s annual report and that she didn’t want to go back to county commission to say “we're short money but we did this road of convenience instead of taking care of our life safety issues." Russell said that she could not support the road project at this time until all deficiencies were first addressed.  


After much discussion the new School Board decided to table the $15,000 budget amendment and bus lane matter until it could be discussed further at the next workshop meeting set for October. The motion was tabled by Johnson, Jr. and seconded by Shaver. The motion passed unanimously.


New BOE Chairperson and Vice-Chair elected   


In other matters, Leroy Tate was nominated and unanimously approved as the new chair of the School Board and Scotty Newman was elected as Vice Chair even though he was absent. Newman was not present to accept or decline the position bestowed on him.


Grant Status - Kathy Proaps


Kathy Proaps gave a short report, a $45,000 lottery grant was received for Steekee Elementary in partnership with the Family Resource Center for an after school program. This is the fourth year that Loudon County Schools has received this grant. Assuming the lottery money holds up from the State, Loudon County Schools will receive the money for another three years. Justification reports are filed yearly.    


Special Ed & Pre-School - Sissy Foster


Sissy Foster gave her report, items under name were for information purposes only. We received our approval  letter from the State Department of Education that has authorized the schools spending their allotment of money under the programs of  IDEA, Part B, which is $882,146 and $15,578 for Pre-School. In other news, the school system will have a graduate intern working 3 days per week in the schools and an undergraduate intern working 2 days per week, working closely with Kimberly Long, who is the social worker.