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New high school site heats up board

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School Board Member Don Weathers points toward a map to show the impact that building in western Mt. Juliet would have on the attendance district of Mt. Juliet High. "We'll end up moving 3,000 students instead of 1,500," he warns. JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post
Jason Morris of Mt. Juliet's KBJM Architects points out the "hot spots" for new population growth at a school board work session convened Monday afternoon to consider possible sites for a new high school in western Wilson County. JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post
"Do you really think we have five years?" School Board Member Linda Armistead responds to fellow Board Member Wayne McNeese's suggestion that the board shop around more for a new high school site by issuing a new Request For Proposals (RFP) for suitable property. JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post
Confronted with a work session presentation including a proposed new high school site on West Division Street in Mt. Juliet, School Board Member Wayne McNeese thunders, "This failed for lack of a second when it came up before. Why in hell are we talking about this?" JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post
Confronted with a work session presentation including a proposed new high school site on West Division Street in Mt. Juliet, School Board Member Wayne McNeese thunders, "This failed for lack of a second when it came up before. Why in hell are we talking about this?" JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post

After debate, 5-0 vote seeks new options

The debate over where to put Wilson County's next high school continues, with Zone 1 School Board Member Wayne McNeese vehemently opposed to the possibility of building on land available along West Division Street in Mt. Juliet.

When the matter came up in a board work session Monday afternoon, McNeese demanded to know why the site was being discussed at all. "This failed for lack of a second when it came up before," McNeese thundered. "Why in hell are we talking about this?"

He also pointed out that the board has said it isn't going to build a new high school for five years, so there's time to think it over and look some more before choosing a site.

'Can we actually wait?'

"Do you really think we have five years?" Zone 4 Board Member Linda Armistead responded, referring to overcrowding in three of the county's four high schools. Armistead is the board member who made the motion that died for lack of a second at the board's Aug. 31 meeting to buy the 68-and-a-half-acre West Division site.

Currently, Mt. Juliet High has about 2,100 students, Lebanon High has about 1,850 and Wilson Central High has about 2,000, with about 1,500 being the ideal size for high schools, according to Director of Schools Dr. Donna Wright.

McNeese said his major objection to the site, which is between West Division and the Hickory Hills and Willoughby Station subdivisions, is the safety issue caused by teen drivers shortcutting through the subdivisions to get to school.

Armistead said the problems could be dealt with by putting up stop signs and speed bumps as well as stricter law enforcement in the area.

But Zone 3 Board Member Don Weathers said, "There isn't enough law enforcement to go around now."

'Avoid moving 3,000 kids'

McNeese suggested that the board might put out another Request For Proposals (RFP) to find additional sites in the western part of the county.

Weathers agreed, saying that the site on Division would require first moving 1,500 students from the current Mt. Juliet High and then bringing in students from both Wilson Central and Lebanon to bring that school's enrollment back to 1,500.

"We'll end up moving 3,000 students instead of 1,500," he warned.

Other possible sites brought up issues with students having long bus rides to get to the school, with Weathers suggesting a site on Stewart's Ferry which had been proposed for a combined elementary and middle school.

When McNeese said he thought a school on Highway 109 would be a better solution, Weathers said a land owner in that area contacted him after the last RFP closed and said he had an 88-acre farm he was interested in selling.

'Good reasons for S.R. 109 site'

Board Chair and Zone 5 Member Larry Tomlinson said Highway 109 might not be such a bad idea. A school in that area could pull students from all three high schools.

Zone 2 Board Member Bill Robinson wrapped the entire discussion up by saying, "We either have to make a choice and vote for the best site offered, or expand the RFP and try again. It's not a life-threatening situation, but we need to make a decision. I don't think the options are going to get any better."

In the meeting which followed the work session, the board voted unanimously to reissue the RFP for a western high school site asking for other choices in the northwest part of the country, basically north of I-40 and west of Highway 109.

Writer Connie Esh can be contacted at cewrites@yahoo.com.

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growth, high school, schools, Wilson County School Board, Wilson County Schools
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