Knox County Commission will vote on the ongoing issue of a new Carter Elementary School during its Nov. 15 meeting. (Photo courtesy of Knox County Schools)
By J.J. KINDRED
Knox County Commission will have the issue of a new Carter Elementary School in front of them again, as they will vote on it during their next meeting Nov. 15.
Commissioners met during a work session Nov. 8 to discuss the issue.
While most of the commission has no problem providing funds for renovation of the current Carter Elementary, they agreed that they are running out of options, and agreed that a new school is needed, and further expressed the need to work with the Knox County School Board to find the money necessary to make it happen.
The school board has insisted for several months that Carter Elementary should undergo major renovations and not have a new building.
They put the ball back in the commission’s court, as they weighed what to do about the future of Carter Elementary. Their options were to approve the $5 million renovation plan that the school board voted on during its meeting last week, or finance an additional $10 million for a new school.
Commission chairman Mike Hammond said there is “political football” being played between the county commission and the school board.
“I’m ready to vote,” Hammond said. “We have had many meetings in the community, and I don’t know if any more meetings is going to change anybody’s mind. Most of you have made up your minds, and know what you want to do in regards to Carter.
“We’re looking at an additional $10 million to build a new school, because part of $5 million was going to Carter Middle,” Hammond continued. “If this commission decides to build a new Carter, there must be a revenue stream. Where is the money coming from? One option could be to refer it to the capital plan, and maybe the school isn’t built next year.”
Hammond said further, “To me, it’s become kind of a football, we’ve gone back and forth and back and forth. I don’t think we need to do that anymore, and the community feels they need to know what the commission is going to do.”
Commissioner Dave Wright, whose district includes the Carter community, has battled back and forth with the school board, attending the last several meetings and work sessions, heavily pressing the need for a new Carter Elementary.
“I have taken the input given to me by the folks who live in the Carter community, and they have done the best they could to impress on me the need for a new campus at Carter Elementary,” Wright said. “I’ve been (to the Carter community) several times and have come to know the people quite well. I believe that a lot of the new school board members had an opinion of Carter Elementary before the election.
“Carter Elementary is a location that’s been brought up by the school board at least four times,” Wright added.
Land had been purchased by the school board for a possible new school, and Wright claimed parents feel like they’ve been promised a new building for years.
“At one point in time, it was such an issue that $1.4 was spent for property. It must have been believed that a new structure was necessary at that time,” he said.
Wright said a prospective business park at Midway Road could bring a bigger population to the area, which would mean more children in the Carter district.
“If Carter gets a school that people can attend, it draws some out of homeschooling, and draws some out of private schooling,” Wright said. “Everyone in the community knows its a bad structure. The first day of school there was a big deal about mold, and since then, some flooring has been taken up and I don’t know whether its been replaced. I’m not an expert on that — I’m just saying what people are talking about.”
The school board has been hesitant to make any further decisions on the issue, and has been insistent on renovating the school instead of building a new one, voting several times in the last few months to renovate.
Last week during its monthly meeting, the school board voted for the capital plan to renovate the school by an 8-1 vote, passing over the possibility of a new school.
“Even with a new school board, the numbers are about the same,” Commissioner Brad Anders said. “Even if we gave them $15 million to build a new school, they wouldn’t build it. If we gave them $50 million, they still wouldn’t build it. Their minds are made up.”
The majority of the school board and superintendent Jim McIntyre feel those claims are unwarranted, and that Carter could be renovated into a safe, responsible environment for children. Some board members even felt that other older schools in Knox County should be given just as high consideration as Carter for renovations.
“When they look at all their priorities, they said there are other schools that are old and have to take priority,” Commissioner Richard Briggs said. “When the chairman said we have to decide if we build a new school or not, I don’t think that’s our decision to make.”
McIntrye addressed the commission and presented a list of improvements that Carter Elementary needed, including a new entrance, better traffic flow, new classrooms, lighting improvement, cleaning up asbestos problems, and the kicker — a new middle school gym.
“There have been a lot of conversations about the Carter facility,” McIntyre said. “Deferring this for a year means we won’t be able to address a lot of the issues. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to make a site piece in its entirety. If the funding is not included, it will not address some of the challenges.”
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett made a brief appearance at the meeting and said he was in support of a new school.
“We need to make this part of the capital plan,” Burchett said to commissioners. “We need to make sure the Carter community has an opportunity to get this school. If we punt (the football), we will miss the opportunity to get it out there.”
County finance director John Troyer told the commission that the mayor’s office has not had an opportunity to analyze the entire capital plan.
Commissioner Tony Norman expressed his frustration on the whole issue, and said the commission should not have the final say in whether Carter Elementary is renovated or has a new facility.
“This body has not met with the school board, and I find that disturbing,” Norman said. “It is not in our authority to tell the schools what to do. There is a long-standing bond of trouble that exists with this body and the school system. I would do everything I could to build that school, knowing what I know from what Mr. Wright has reported, but I don’t think we’re solving anything.”
Wright added, “I’ve come to the firm belief that a new school has to be built. The biggest concern about the last two or three sessions of the commission and the school board is that this been treated like a football — we have bounced it back and forth.
“Each time we talk about it we get lost in the high weeds of football,” Wright continued. “Maybe the school board does not understand our concern about the safety or what’s being constructed, and maybe we don’t understand the need of keeping their budget intact.”
“We do not want to hold the children hostage, and that’s what we’re doing,” added commissioner Amy Broyles.