Added Jonesborough school cost could put strain on county’s school capital fund

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JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) – Washington County’s Education Capital Projects fund is the likely source to fill a current funding gap of $10 million for a new K-8 school in Jonesborough — which would leave less money for other school capital needs.

Each additional million dollars above the original $32.75 million estimate will cost around $46,000 annually for 30 years.

Washington County School Board members learned Sept. 16 the project would cost significantly more than originally thought. In a called meeting Sept. 17, the Washington County Budget Committee voted 3-0 with Jim Wheeler recusing himself to approve up to $10 million in additional funding for the school.

If approved at Monday’s full Washington County Commission meeting, the payments would be added to a lease with the Town of Jonesborough, which is the borrower on the project.

Thursday, the school board learned the specific cost is, indeed, $42.75 million, meaning the county commission will consider adding $460,000 annually to the outlay.

School Superintendent Jerry Boyd told News Channel 11 earlier this week the capital fund is the best option for addressing the unexpected expense.

“We have that within the capacity of those funds, the board has expressed the support for certainly moving forward with the Jonesborough Elementary project and also with the realization that those funds will come from the education capital projects fund.”

That doesn’t mean there won’t be some tradeoffs. Freddie Malone sits on the county budget committee and voted to recommend the increased spending.

“It will reduce availability for school projects out into the future, and yes it is a concern because we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future but we know there will be capital needs,” Malone said.

But he doesn’t think other palatable options are out there.

“I think the design team has whittled the cost down as far as they can in terms of the overall design and functionality of a school,” Malone said.

“If you’re going to build a school you need certain basic things and they cost what they cost, which is obviously much higher now than it would have been a year ago.”

Malone said the school system has told the commission they’re prioritizing the new school project and want to move forward even with the increased cost.

“They have also acknowledged that there will be less money available because of it to fund other capital needs,” he said.

Typical among those, the school system’s Boyd said, are “roofs, heat and ventilation systems, HVAC systems. Other structural things that come up from time to time in aging buildings that do cost a lot of money. Any kind of work like that today and in the future’s going to cost a lot of money.”

That list excludes school replacements or renovations. The system is vetting a firm that will provide a long-range facilities plan.

“Through that process over the next six months we’ll definitely have a really good indication at least the next five to 10 years what those big dollar items could be,” Boyd said.

Despite the distinct possibility of a “we can’t pay for this need” moment someday, Boyd said he doesn’t consider the proposed change to be kicking the can down the road.

“I think it’s utilizing current existing resources, and then moving forward we’re well aware of the limitations.

“So the board has to work diligently with the commission and with our staff to look down the road and see what needs are and just be very deliberate in decisions in the future with capital needs.”

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