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Proponents of school renovations show support at work session

Posted on Tuesday, August 18, 2015 at 5:30 pm

Wayne Hawkins (Dist. 2), who is on the Council’s Budget Committee, addresses the audience Monday before the close of the  August regular monthly council meeting. The council then heard public input for more than an hour. (MCN Photo by Robert Holman)

Wayne Hawkins (Dist. 2), who is on the Council’s Budget Committee, addresses the audience Monday before the close of the August regular monthly council meeting. The council then heard public input for more than an hour. (MCN Photo by Robert Holman)

LYNCHBURG, Tenn. — It’s not a standoff just yet. But neither the Metro Council nor the Moore County school board has blinked either.

Following Monday’s short Metropolitan Lynchburg Moore County Council meeting, there was a work session to discuss proposed improvements at the Moore County High School campus.

The meeting, held in the MCHS gymnasium, drew more than 100 community members, along with the Moore County school board members and members of the Metro Council.

With the county budget in place for the upcoming fiscal year, the council has renewed its discussion with the MCBoE and Director of Schools Chad Moorehead about future improvements at the high school and middle school, which are located on the same campus.

Nine months after the project was first brought to the council and eight months since council members heard a detailed presentation from the Tullahoma-based engineering firm of Oliver, Little and Gipson (OLG), the council and the school board have made little headway toward getting the project off the ground.

Monday’s work session — which was focused more around how to pay for the $17.2 million project than the details of the renovation itself — entertained the largest crowd, mostly supporters of the project, to date.

“The school board has met and met and met,” said Moorehead. “We’ve discussed this for over five years now and it needs to be addressed. We’ve made changes to the building (over time) … we made adjustments with our personnel.”

The Council said to fund the requested $17.2 million, which is only an estimate at this time, there would need to be a 50 cent property tax increase to help pay back the loan over 20 years. A 50 cent property tax increase would roughly be an additional 25 percent of what property owners are paying annual now and would also include the monies allocated to pay for the state-mandated jail renovations.

For example, a parcel valued at $100,000 (carrying an assessed value of $25,000) would have an annual tax increase of $125. Property values at $200,000 would see a $250 tax increase and so on. Approximately 50 percent of the landowners in the county have property valued in the $10,000 to $100,000 range.

After a lengthy discourse by councilman Wayne Hawkins (Dist. 2), which was part of the regular monthly council meeting, the council heard public input.

“We’re never gonna get this done if we don’t get after it,” said Terry Holt. “We knew this was coming. We should have had some kind of plan.”

The Council’s Budget Committee, headed by Tommy Brown (Dist. 5), has responded repeatedly that it wants an itemized list of the improvements and for them to be prioritized in terms of need, not want. Moorehead said that while that is a doable task, many of the school improvements are contingent upon each other and eliminating one or more of the improvements could shutter the project or send the MCBoE back to the drawing board.

“If the board is gonna go back and tear apart all the work that has been done, then they need a number (that the council will approve),” he said.

Hawkins, who is on the Budget Committee, said he thought that $6-8 million was a feasible amount, which drew the ire of many of the parents, school faculty and community members in attendance. Anyone in attendance looking for a quick resolution to what seems to be an impasse, however, likely left dissatisfied due in large part to the fact that Monday’s meeting was nothing more than an open-mic work session. No action could be taken at that time, regardless of the public input.

Moore County assistant principal Tanya Vann said that the dilemma facing the county has as much to do with student achievement, state mandates and school growth than most people realize.

“This has got to be about student learning,” said Vann, addressing the council and the audience. “We need added time for extra education and we need to gain time to meet expectations by the state. The priority that it gets to is where can we gain minutes?

“Going from two lunches a day from three will gain 30 minutes a day. A new cafeteria would help that, but a new gym would be needed to do that as well. Take 30 minutes a day and multiple that by 180 school days. That is our need.”

Vann’s comments drew a loud round of applause from the audience.

The proposed upgrades within the school would include a new cafeteria, a new gymnasium, additional classrooms and state-of-the-art security measures, which would mean inclosing the school — both high school and middle school — fully under one roof.

It was obvious that some Council members are against the project. Glenn Searcy (Dist. 2) left the meeting a few minutes before it concluded, and Brown has openly said he would not support a project with a $17.2 price tag. He reiterated those sentiments again Monday.

No indication was given as to when the project would come before the Council again.

—By ROBERT HOLMAN, Publisher (mcnpub@lcs.net)

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