Greenback residents demand new school; commissioners seek funding

Greenback residents demand new school; commissioners seek funding

Posted:
The fire marshal ordered the school to be put on round-the-clock fire watch  because of malfunctioning smoke detectors and other fire code violations. The fire marshal ordered the school to be put on round-the-clock fire watch because of malfunctioning smoke detectors and other fire code violations.
Parents have complained  about peeling paint and overcrowding. Parents have complained about peeling paint and overcrowding.
The school system is forced to spend money on things like a wheelchair lift while still hoping for a new building that complies with codes and laws. The school system is forced to spend money on things like a wheelchair lift while still hoping for a new building that complies with codes and laws.
Four commissioners did not respond to questions by 6 News about funding for a new school, (shown clockwise, starting at top left) Harold Duff, Earlena Maples, Chris Park and David Meers. Four commissioners did not respond to questions by 6 News about funding for a new school, (shown clockwise, starting at top left) Harold Duff, Earlena Maples, Chris Park and David Meers.

By ERICA ESTEP
6 News Anchor/Reporter

GREENBACK (WATE) - Problems with Greenback School in Loudon County have been going on for years.

Concerned parents and even the school principal have expressed frustration with the problems that have forced the aging school to close many times.

The Loudon County School Board approved a building plan that would give Greenback a new school, but county commissioners must agree on how to fund it.

In the past four years, Greenback School has been hit with a growing list of problems.

  • The fire marshal ordered the school to be put on round-the-clock fire watch because of malfunctioning smoke detectors and other fire code violations.
  • The school was closed because of mold.
  • The school was closed because of septic problems.
  • The school was closed several times because of gas leaks, some reportedly due to vandalism.
  • Parents have complained about peeling paint and overcrowding.

Those who live in the Greenback community are demanding a new school.

To find out what's stalling the approval of funding for a new school, 6 News contacted all ten county commissioners.

Four commissioners did not respond, David Meers, Earlena Maples, Harold Duff and Chris Park.

The other six say they support a building program, but don't agree on how much they can afford to spend. There are also disputes over which schools have the greatest need and whether or not they can build a school without raising taxes.

"I support all the four projects, but I'm positive we can't do them all at once without a property tax increase," District 7 Commissioner Don Miller said.

Bob Franke, who represents Greenback in District 3, said, "I think Greenback is the poster child of our county schools facilities problems."

"The needs at Greenback are not as great as the vocal people have led people to believe," argued District 1 Commissioner Nancy Marcus.


Studies point to needs at Greenback

County Commission paid the Knoxville Public Building Authority $46,000 to give the county an assessment of Loudon County schools. The PBA's recommendation was to build a new school in Greenback.
 
A feasibility study in 2007 looked at possible uses of existing facilities determined it would not be cost effective to renovate older portions of Greenback school, board member Lisa Russell points out.

"They stated the most cost effective option was to build a new Pre -K thru 12 facility," she said.


County's school needs not limited to Greenback

The school board has presented a Phase 1 building program which could cost the county as much as $47 million. The plan includes improvements all over the county.

The Phase 1 building plan would provide new schools for both Greenback and Loudon Middle. It would also combine the existing Loudon Elementary and current Loudon Middle School into a K-5 facility.

Philadelphia School would also get cafeteria improvements under the plan.

"I think we're eventually going to have to do them all," said Miller, "but we can't do them all at once without a property tax increase."

"The problem, really, with getting the funding, is the school board refuses to break up any of the projects in Phase 1 in order to get Greenback," Marcus added.

"Look, we've got to do something here and move ahead," said Franke. "It's not going to get any cheaper."

Right now, commissioners are waiting for new construction drawings and new cost estimates to move forward.


Greenback School is a drain on county coffers

In the meantime, problems continue at Greenback School besides simple wear and tear. There are still safety issues, workers are in the halls daily and it's become a money pit for the county.

For example, thousands of dollars were spent on new wheelchair lifts before this school year.

Before the lifts were added, there were parts of the building that were not handicap accessible. That is against federal law.

The school system is forced to spend money on things like this for an old building while still hoping to get a new one.

The county has paid to have the natural gas system inspected, add new exhaust, replace a hot water heater, replace heating and air conditioning units, and take down an old chimney. Still, there are structural issues that must be addressed.

"I almost wince every time we have to approve to spend money, but you've got to do it because we have to keep it safe," Franke said.

"I don't understand why this is still a topic of discussion," said Russell. "The school board has already made the decision to build a Pre-K thru 12 facility and with money from the county commission have gone through to the process of having blueprints drawn. I personally feel that had county commission and the school board moved forward with the recommendation of the Knoxville Public Building Authority in 2006 and built the school, we would not be going through all of the life safety issues and additional expenses today."


School structural problems hinder learning

Greenback School Principal Joey Breedlove says all of the issues that pop up are distracting to students and frustrating to staff.

"I really don't see that any amount of money they spend at this point is going to bring this building up to today's educational standard," Breedlove said.

One of the biggest hurdles Loudon County faces is that many schools have needs.

Fort Loudon Middle, which is also in the Phase 1 building plan, is severely overcrowded. The commissioner representing that district says it should come first.

"I just think we should do one project," said Marcus, "and I think it should be Loudon and get the students out of the trailers. Then go to Greenback."


Problems won't be resolved soon

There is still a lot for the county to iron out. Even if the building program hits no further snags, it will still be at least two years before Greenback would see a new school. 

Once the commission decides how much the county can borrow to start building, the school board will decide how to allocate that money.

"If the commission could give the school board a firm dollar amount for available funding, the school board at that time may have to make the decision as to which project to move forward with," said Russell. "We have four projects  listed in the Phase 1 building plan and have decided to put one on hold, the co-joining of the two Loudon Schools."

One school board member says the decisions could get tough.

"If they were to decide to only give us a certain amount of money that wouldn't cover both of the new schools, then we would be forced into a position to have to pick either or of the two new schools," said Van Shaver. "I can almost assure you that nobody on the school board wants to do that. We know we need both of the new schools."

All this won't likely be settled before the August election.

Seven county commissioners face competition for their seats.


More of what Loudon County Commissioners said

Bob Franke
Bob Franke,
Dist. 3
(Greenback)
I think Greenback is the poster child or our county schools facilities problems and by no means is Greenback the only one that has problems. We have issues at other schools, space wise and so one. It really hurts to have to continue to just be throwing and throwing money out. It's like an old car that you try to keep on the road and you keep throwing money at it, but you still got an old car. Yes we're going to have to raise taxes. I see no way around it. Now, I'm not saying we have to raise them this year, this coming summer. It all depends on, I think, how the building project timing goes. It's going to be inevitable, we are going to have to raise taxes even if we don't build a new facility just due to inflationary pressures of everything from utilities, pay raises, insurances, all those sort of things that keep the services of the county going. We owe it to the children in the county to give them the facilities that are constructed in a way that are conducive to the learning process and are comfortable to be in and environmentally safe. I think anything less is just not acceptable at all.
Nancy Marcus
Nancy Marcus,
Dist. 1
Commission has given the school board the money that they have asked for to take the buildings in Phase 1 to get very close estimates to what it would cost to build the buildings. There is a need in Greenback, but at the same time there are needs at every school in our county. My concern and I think the concern of most of the commissioners that I know, feel like there are over 5,000 students in our county and they all attend schools that have needs. The Philadelphia project could be done before school starts next year, but they will not separate it. Fort Loud and Loudon Elementary are terribly overcrowded and those buildings were built at the same time some of Greenback was built. When you go to Greenback, and there are needs there, no more than other places though. What we have heard for four years is Greenback is old, Greenback is in terrible condition and Greenback needs a brand new school. We need to walk away from this school and build a brand new school. That's all we've heard. The only part of Greenback that was built in 1939 was two classrooms and an auditorium. That's approximately 10% of the current facility. They have had several additions and there are parts of the school that are still in good condition. The county has addressed every concern or need that they have brought to us. We have added on when they needed it. We have addressed all of the safety issues that they have brought to us. The needs at Greenback are not as great as the vocal people have led people to believe. The overcrowding at Fort Loudon and Loudon Elementary to me is the greatest need, to get those students out of those trailers. The first concern of all of the commissioners is the safety and well being of all the students, the 5,000 students in our county. All the gas leaks that we're at Greenback, some of them, were judged to be, by the mechanical people and maintenance people, to be tampered with to make Greenback look bad and look dangerous. I just think there's been a lot of publicity to try to make Greenback look old and try to make Greenback look bad to try to get Greenback a new school. I think there is enough of the school to be used that we don't have to go over and spend $25 to $30 million for a new school, two and a half times as big as what they've got when they don't even fill it up. I don't think we should spend that much money for that many students in Greenback when we have so many other needs in the county.
Don Miller
Don Miller,
Dist. 7
I support all four projects, but I'm positive we can't do them all at once without a property tax increase. This is just not the right year to be implementing tax increases. Let's not do it all at once with a property tax increase right now. Let's proceed with what we can, which I think would be roughly half the projects or half the dollars anyway. Then, deal with the balance in a year or so when hopefully things will get a little better. I don't think it's my job to prioritize what project to do first. That's the school board's job. I represent a district that has essentially almost no school children because we're mostly either a retirement community or people who's kids have kind of left the nest. So, I don't really have an axe to grind for Greenback or Loudon or anybody else. There are some commissioners who don't feel that we should build a brand new school in Greenback, that we ought to salvage what we can and replace the bad, old parts of the school. We also have a difference of opinion on how much money we can borrow without a tax increase. If we could fund it all right now without a property tax, I'd be out there signing the check, but we can't. So, let's be realistic and do what we can now and do the rest in a year or so. At some point I think we're probably going to need a property tax increase, but let's keep it as small as we can. But, also I don't want to do it when the economy and the employment situation is the way that it is. I just don't think that's fair to so many people in the county that are really hurting.
Wayne Gardin
Wayne Gardin,
Dist. 6
The ideal situation would be to build a Pre-K through grade 8 in Greenback and build a new high school in the Lenoir City end of Loudon County and this would accomplish the high school needs for Loudon County for several years to come. This is not politically correct to do. Greenback does not want to give up their high school. Loudon County school system has many needs. We had a study done in 2007 that looked at the needs. Most all schools had needs from being over crowded, classes in portable classrooms, lunchrooms too small, lunch starting at 10:30 am until 1:30 PM, libraries being too small and not having a very good inventory. There has been more said about gas leaks. The county has spent several thousand dollars on Greenback School to make it safe. Last year Loudon County spent some $65,000 to replace defective gas heaters. The new gas lines were taken from the new unit back to the main gas line. We are at the moment planning to spend something less than $100,000 to repair other building problems at Greenback School. Part of the Greenback School is an old building, but a lot of money has been spent on the building adding classrooms, new seats in the gym, etc. I am not saying Greenback does not need a new school. We are about fifteen years behind with a school building program. I believe the county can borrow $25 million without raising taxes and leave the door open to review the building program 6 to 8 months down the road to see if the economy gets any better. The decision to build schools must rest with Loudon County Board of Education. It is not the responsibility of the Loudon County Commission to tell the school board what to build. I do not believe we can raise property taxes this year to build anything.
Austin Shaver
Austin Shaver,
Dist. 2
I support not only the building of a new school at Greenback, but all of the Phase 1 building program that has been presented to County Commission, including Greenback, Ft. Loudon Middle, and a new Philadelphia cafeteria. I believe that the building should commence as soon as possible and just as importantly that the project can be completed without a property tax increase. I have previously presented a proposal to the commission laying out the manner in which I believe the project can be completed without a property tax increase. The only unknown quantities are the term and rate of the loan that we can obtain. This is an important factor as it will drive how much we can borrow without needing a property tax increase. I believe, based on what we have seen recently, that the mid $30 million range is not an unreasonable estimate of what can be obtained. Unfortunately, it is difficult to know what lenders will be willing to do without funds being authorized. I wish I had an answer for why some remain opposed to building a new school at Greenback. I could almost understand the opposition if the proposal was to build Greenback at the detriment of the other schools, but I have heard no one make such a suggestion. Thus, it would seem to be that the opposition only wants to deny Greenback a school, even after the Director of Schools identified Greenback as having the greatest need if safety was the primary consideration. I believe that should be the end of the discussion. It is my ultimate hope that enough commissioners will understand the need for the building program, particularly, but not only for Greenback. Furthermore, one of my primary objectives as a county commissioner is to always treat the citizens' money as I would my own and to be a fiscally responsible steward of those funds. There can be no more legitimate protest that Greenback is not in dire need of a school, and I believe that this can be accomplished by being responsible with the money we currently have and without imposing a property tax increase on the citizens of Loudon County.
Roy Bledsoe
Roy Bledsoe,
Dist. 4 and Commission Chairman
We are currently waiting on drawings and figures about what each school would cost. Without that I can't decide which way to go. Doing that would be like writing a blank check. One child is just as important as the other. I am for doing what's right and what we can afford to pay for. We are way behind on a building program. We should have already had a new school built and probably started on a second one by now. I'm sure Greenback has some needs. I need to get over there and look at all their facilities. Whether they need it all or not, I don't know. It is not the right time to raise property taxes with the economy in the shape it's in. I can't make a decision on funding without having all the facts and figures. That would be like going to a car lot, finding the car you want, and then saying send me a bill without ever knowing the price.

 

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