News Channel 11 gets inside look at why school leaders say there is a need for new Towne Acres school


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – School officials in Johnson City Schools are looking to make major changes to Towne Acres Elementary.

Johnson City School leaders said the system needs a new Towne Acres Elementary School.

Some of the key areas they are using to support the request: safety and security, the school’s capacity and its age.

School leaders showed Pheben Kassahun the facility, and reveal why they think building a new school is the best plan.

T he plan to bring the fifth grade back into Johnson City elementary schools will not be easy for schools like Towne Acres Elementary School.

“It doesn’t leave us any storage where to keep their materials. Even with the creativity of trying to move this, take apart this, you’re still looking at maybe being one to two classrooms short, if fifth grade was to come back next year,” principal Dr. Josh Simmons said.

Dr. Simmons has been the school’s principal for the last three years and has seen first hand, what the school is in need of. He said the elementary school has been moving things around for too long and says it is time for a new school.

Dr. Barnett, who was previously a principal at the elementary school for 12 years, communicated the needs at the last county commission meeting.

“It’s our job as a school system to make sure the commissions understand our needs and give them time to act on that,” Johnson City Schools superintendent Dr. Steve Barnett said.

“$23 million for a Towne Acres school. Our total need was about $30 million, but $6 million to $7 million of that is already being taken care of by some PEP bonds that came available through Johnson City commission,” Dr. Simmons said.

The main issue is student capacity.

“You look at our enrollment numbers from 16-17, we were at 365 students. Currently, this year, we’re enrolling 430 students. We’ve added 65 kids over the span of three school years,” Dr. Simmons explained. “By doing that, we went from 18 general ed classes to 21. As we’ve had to open up space for regular classrooms, we’ve had to displace programs like ESL which is now in our audio visual closet.”

Another issue is safety and security.

“Right now, our campus is made up of three separate buildings. For our students to go from class to a related art, they’re having to travel outside. Of course, they’re with their teacher when they do that but even if they have to come to the clinic, they’re getting dismissed. We have students that are having to walk outside to get from point A to point B,” Dr. Simmons said.

While there are gates that encloses the three physical structures, Dr. simmons said it is not safe even during months of inclement weather.

Dr. Simmons, “I don’t know any other school, at least elementary, where a kid, in order to go to the cafeteria they have to put on their jacket because they have to walk outside to get there.”

The third issue is the age of the buildings.

“This building here was built in 1966, addition was made in 1974 and another addition in 1991. These aren’t connected by interior hallways,” Dr. Simmons said. “But when you come in and start looking at the bare bones, as far as things with the electrical, the plumbing, there are issues that our maintenance staff has to come and deal with on a weekly basis.”

Dr. Barnett said this is a project school officials have been working on since 2017. Right now, he is unsure of project funding, partially due to the proposed jonesborough school project.

Dr. Barnett said, “We understand their needs at Jonesborough as well, and I’ve said all along, there’s probably a good way to figure out how to meet the needs of both these communities at both these schools.”

Dr. Barnett said from the time the drawings are done to the finished product. He hopes the school would be ready sometime between 2020 and 2023.

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