JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) — Finishing the town park and athletic field amenities at Jonesborough’s new K-8 school just got a lot easier with the Town of Jonesborough’s receipt of a $2.4 million state parks and recreation grant.
“That’s going to allow us to get this thing completed in a first-class manner,” Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest said while standing outside the soon-to-open school as the active sound of construction work hummed around him.
By “this thing,” Vest was referring to a mix of athletic fields, playgrounds, a walking trail that is already under construction and reforestation on the 48-acre property where the new school sits. Because of additional funding, the grant will allow for the purchase of $3.8 million in capital needs — from athletic field lighting and a concession building to tennis/pickleball courts — that otherwise would have had to wait until other funding became available.
“Normally $500,000 is the largest grant the state will put out,” Vest told News Channel 11 about the Local Parks and Recreation Fund (LPRF) grant, funded through the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
“What’s different about this one is that the state was looking for some larger projects where they saw some collaboration between municipalities and the county governments,” Vest said.
The school is funded by a USDA Rural Development loan procured by Jonesborough, but Washington County is reimbursing the town for the annual payments and leasing the school. That collaboration also means the county is having to give something to get something in this case.
That’s because the award comes with a 100% match requirement — skin in the game that actually multiplies the value of work that Vest said should be complete and ready for use by next spring. Jonesborough estimated it will put in $940,000 of in-kind expenses. That left an estimated $1.5 million of cash needed for the town to be able to accept the grant.
Monday night, Washington County commissioners took that burden off the town when they passed a resolution allowing up to $2 million in additional funds to be added to the USDA loan.
Commissioner Jodi Jones brought the motion from the Health Education and Welfare committee, which she chairs, and said she wanted to be very clear that passage “increases what we borrow for the Jonesborough school.
“I’m glad to do that,” she added, noting that it took years to come up with enough funds to complete ballfields and lighting at the Boones Creek K-8 school that opened in 2019.
“We have a match from our partners in Jonesborough who have worked very hard to come up with a way to finish the athletic fields and the property around the school … here’s an opportunity for us to invest more and get more,” Jones said.
Vest said everyone, including county residents, will benefit.
“Part of the whole plan was not just to build this school for the community but was also to have a recreational facility to kind of enhance what Jonesborough offers,” Vest said.
“We’ve had Persimmon Ridge Park for years down there, but it’s a 1970s facility that we hope to update, but we needed more space for kids to play soccer and other new activities, and (being) able to join this with our school project was really important.”
He said the walking trail that will circle the school property is going to eventually connect with a trail that runs through town.
“The Town of Jonesborough’s had decades of good relationships with the State of Tennessee, especially the recreation and parks funds and when they saw a project of this they wanted to be a part of it,” Vest said.
Washington County School Superintendent Jerry Boyd said the grant and collaboration “fits into the big vision that the Town of Jonesborough and Washington County government and Washington County Board of Education had in going into this partnership.
“The idea was in addition to a school, which is a community center, wanted to make sure there was an outside grounds facility that would serve as that center for not just the children that will attend the school but all of the community.”
Boyd said the planned improvements will also enhance opportunities for the school’s students.
“It’s exciting in that it will be a parklike setting that at the center of it is an elementary school,” Boyd said. “It’s a great vision that was cast but the officials and these funds certainly help ensure that vision materializes and it’s certainly going to happen very soon and we’re all excited about that.”