Today is Friday, August 18, 2017

Schools prioritized over old LHS renovation

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Officers of Friendship Community Church display their plans for Mt. Juliet's Shiloh Plaza, which the church has bought for use as an Impact Center, after receiving the school board's blessing to remain in Elzie D. Patton Elementary until their project is completed. From left outside the board's Central Office are children's pastor and church board member Teresa Snyder, Church Administrator Neil Hamby, and church board member Kara Torphy. JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post
Winning $1,125 Coca-Cola scholarships at the school board meeting are, from left, Shelby Wright (Lebanon High), Taylor Sovell (MJHS), Austyn Walls (Watertown) and Kaylee York (WCHS). JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post
Commissioner Annette Stafford, left center, and Board Member Linda Armistead, right center, talk over school bids with Commissioners Jim Emberton (right), Gary Keith and Kenny Reich. JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post
TXR pupil Minnah Gouda, left, leads the Pledge of Allegiance with Director of Schools Dr. Donna Wright after first bravely singing the National Anthem as well, unaccompanied and tunefully. JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post
Wilson Central Principal Travis Mayfield receives a congratulatory handshake from Director of Schools Dr. Donna Wright for being named Administrator of the Year by TN Skills USA. JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post

Board's main request will be for elementaries & land

Faced with bids totaling $28 million more than originally budgeted, the Wilson County School Board voted unanimously Monday night to send a trimmed-back set of bids to the county commission for construction, expansion and renovation at four elementary and K-8 schools.

In the same unanimously-approved motion, the board also voted to request funds to buy land for the planned new high school, two middle schools and one elementary on the county's west side - where burgeoning growth is concentrated.

With each board member present asserting that schools are the top priority - and backing that up by voting to request the construction and land purchase funding - the board also voted 3-1 to still request funding to renovate the old Lebanon High School as a new Central Office and adult education center concentrated in a single building.

'Million-dollar mistake'

Zone 1 Board Member Wayne McNeese cast the dissenting vote, with Zone 3 Board Member Don Weathers absent, about sending bids to the county commission for approval as a separate issue totaling almost $23 million to renovate the old LHS to create office space for the district.

The final bids for the schools were:

Southside - $14.7 million (about $6.9 million over budget);

Watertown Elementary - $13.5 million (about $7.5 million over budget);

Gladeville - $11.2 million (about $4.7 million over budget); and,

Tuckers Crossroads - $11.1 million (about $3 million over budget).

The land that would be purchased for new schools includes:

$4.3 million for the new high school site on North Greenhill and Lebanon roads in Mt. Juliet, plus $1.7 million for road work at that site;

$1.4 million for a middle/elementary school site behind the current Mt. Juliet High School; and,

$1 million for a Gladeville middle school site.

But that 3-1 action included a statement that the board's approval was "pending funding," which Zone 4 Board Member Linda Armistead acknowledged is unlikely to be granted.

Prior to the vote, McNeese expressed his opposition to the project, saying, "I hate to say the word 'mistake,' but if you make a million-dollar mistake, you don't want to add $20 million on top of it."

Renovation performed at the old high school already - including "abatement" work costing $517,000, in addition to architect's fees - has totaled around $1 million, Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall told the board.

Sale proceeds: zero?

Armistead said the district has been told that if it sold the old school, the district would receive almost nothing for it. And Hall said that if the district had to start building the planned $23 million facility from the ground up - without the existing foundation and structure - it would cost $50 million to $60 million.

"There's sticker shock, without a doubt," he acknowledged.

Those figures mean the old LHS renovation project may still be worth pursuing, District 20 Commissioner Annette Stafford told four of her fellow county commissioners who attended the board meeting and are among the 25 commissioners who will have to make the final decision.

Stafford - who chairs the commission's Education Committee - Hall and Armistead were chatting with the four other commissioners during a break after the special school board work session Monday evening preceding the board's regular 6 p.m. meeting.

Confusing votes taken

The work session gave the board a chance to initially consider its options. But when the board finally voted during its regular meeting, the process of passing the proposal to request funding for the elementary school construction and west-side land purchases was conflicted and confusing.

Requesting approval of those elementary bids was first proposed in a motion by Armistead, seconded by Zone 2 Board Member Bill Robinson.

Next Armistead amended her motion to include the funding for land purchases, again seconded by Robinson. Then without voting first on the amendment, the board voted unanimously to approve the original motion.

Before he voted, McNeese asked exactly what they were voting on, asking if it was just the four school projects - and Zone 5 Member Larry Tomlinson, who chairs the board, said yes.

But then after the vote, Tomlinson said the motion as amended had passed. At that point McNeese again asked for clarification, since he said he thought they were only voting on the four elementary projects.

Motion rescinded, re-made

Finally - after Board Attorney Mike Jennings confirmed that the board had not voted on the land purchase amendment although it had been made - Tomlinson asked Armistead to rescind her motion and remake it clearly including the land purchase in the board's request to the county commission for approval. This new motion then passed unanimously.

Next steps: Thursday

Both proposals will now be heard by the county Education and Budget committees, which meet this Thursday (May 5) at 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. respectively.

In addition to Stafford - who serves on both Education and Budget - the four county commissioners who attended Monday night's meeting were Kenny Reich and Gary Keith (Districts 6 and 17, both on the Steering Committee); Sonja Robinson (District 13, Education) and Jim Emberton (District 25, Finance).

Meanwhile, the newest elementary at Mt. Juliet - on Central Pike - is actually now under construction, according to Tomlinson. The bids on it came in at $23.7 million, about $296,000 under budget.

Deal on liquor tax?

Jennings also told the board that he thinks its liquor-by-the-drink tax issues with the City of Mt. Juliet may be nearing a solution, following the board's 3-1 vote last month to forgive the $272,865 that the city owes the county schools in back tax revenues - if the city waives an estimated $449,000 in construction fees for the four new schools scheduled to be built in the west end of the county.

"We're still talking, massaging the deal, but it looks good," Jennings said.

Renovations of the Mt. Juliet Middle School theater and restrooms have also been approved already and will be completed while students are out of school for the summer. Bids on this project came in at $2.8 million, or about $500,000 under budget.

'Surplus' wood, seats

In other action, the board also declared the wood from the old Lebanon High to be surplus property and approved giving it to the new Lebanon High to be used in a fundraiser.

The board approved a similar plan for the seats which will be removed from the MJMS theater this summer. Those seats were also declared surplus property and given to the middle school for fund-raising.

Also approved was a plan to shift about 100 Stoner Creek students to Mt. Juliet Elementary starting this fall to help relieve overcrowding at Stoner Creek.

Writer Connie Esh can be contacted at

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education, Gladeville, Lebanon High School, liquor tax, new school, renovation, school board, schools, Southside Elementary, Tuckers Crossroads, vote, Watertown, Wilson County School Board, Wilson County Schools
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