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Jefferson County debates on funding new school

Debate over replacing versus renovating a new school in Jefferson County.
Principal Craig Day shows crack in gym wall at Jefferson Elementary School in Jefferson City.
Principal Craig Day shows crack in gym wall at Jefferson Elementary School in Jefferson City.(WVLT)
Published: Mar. 22, 2021 at 6:26 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 22, 2021 at 9:14 PM EDT
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JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. (WVLT) -UPDATE:  The motion to fund a new school failed on a majority vote Monday night.  The topic of what do to about the school will likely be brought up again by county leaders next month.

According to officials, Jefferson Elementary School has numerous things that need attention such as: asbestos flooring, asbestos-wrapped pipes and the lack of a sprinkler system to peeling lead paint on the entryway and cracks down the gymnasium wall.

“So the crack here was wide enough to see all the way to Highway 11E,” said Principal Craig Day of one filled and painted area,

Day also recounted having to keep students out of the building entirely for a school day because an overflowing sewage system poured raw sewage into the building. “So there was actually sewage in the hallways that needed to be cleared. And so we were able to do that but it took one full day with students not being able to come to school,” said Day.

The building that school maintenance staff keeps clean and tidy on a daily basis for students is also the one that scored the lowest on an assessment of building conditions around the Jefferson County Schools system. It was built in 1958. Now, the Board of Education is recommending a new building to replace Jefferson Elementary. Jefferson County Commission is set to vote yes or no on the construction of a new school at an estimate of nearly $20 million dollars.

Director of Schools, Dr. Shane Johnston says he realizes this is a big decision for the community, “We understand the gravity of the situation and there’s concern about spending that kind of money in COVID. And we’re just trying to give the funding body accurate information so they can decide if funding a school is what that they think’s best. We do know the school’s had better days.”

A professional assessment of the building shows an extensive renovation could cost just a couple million dollars shy of a new building, at nearly $18 million in major work. This figure and the big spending decision in general concern County Commissioner Marcus Reed. “I’m concerned that the numbers may be not quite correct...I’m totally for the health and safety of the students. I’m totally for the health and safety of the teachers. I value teachers. But I have to be very careful as the representative of all the people when it comes to spending that kind of money.”

Former County Commissioner and retired teacher David Seal is also concerned about financial stewardship at this time. He sees renovation as a more responsible alternative. “And the school system is capable of repairing and renovating Jefferson Elementary School am I recommend we use cash reserves to do that.”

Johnston said a renovation of Piedmont School is also recommended by the Board of Education.

If a new school replaces the existing one, Jefferson County would put it on the current site of the county fairgrounds. It is unclear where a new fairgrounds would be created.

Principal Day says he wants his students to feel safe and have a good place to learn.

Jefferson County Commission plans to meet Monday night to discuss and vote on the new school recommendation.

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