​School Board Will Request Middle School Funding; Discusses Disposition of Townsend Property

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
Following lengthy debate at the March 5 working session, the Franklin County School Board charged Director of Schools Stanley Bean with setting up a meeting with the Franklin County Commission. This meeting will assess whether the commission favored building a single consolidated middle school or two separate middle schools to replace the two aging structures currently in use. Last May, the board passed a resolution asking the commission to authorize a $37.5 million bond to fund construction of a consolidated middle school. The board never delivered the resolution request.
Momentum stalled when the board could not identify a suitable location for the school. “One property we looked at was extremely expensive, and the owners didn’t want to sell,” explained Board Chair CleiJo Walker. “The other four properties posed exorbitant infrastructure expenses.”
“The feedback I’m getting now is in favor of two schools,” said board member Gary Hanger.
Board member Sara Liechty concurred. To calm objections to 1,000 plus students at a single school, Liechty proposed a magnet school at the South Middle School location to divert some of the students from the proposed consolidated school.
“Students are leaving us to be educated elsewhere,” Liechty argued. “Will we sit back and watch charter schools take our money away?”
Liechty cited research showing a magnet school would enhance the school district’s image, attract quality teachers and improve ACT scores.
Students from Cowan, Sewanee and Sherwood not selected for attending the magnet school would pass the site en route to the consolidated school located a long way from where they lived, Sewanee school board representative Adam Tucker objected.
Liechty pointed out the same situation could occur if the county were rezoned to balance enrollment in the event the county decided to build two middle schools.
“We don’t know what we can build until we know how much money we can get,” board member Chris Guess stressed, expressing dismay the board never presented the county commission the resolution requesting funding.
Tucker reminded his colleagues the county commission indicated it was not willing to fund two schools, estimated cost between $48-$52 million. “I can get behind two schools if that’s what the commission wants and is willing to pay for,” Tucker said.
“The complexion of the county commission changed in August,” Walker noted.
Tucker and Guess both spoke out against renovating the schools. The mold in the schools was so bad it made some students sick, Guess said.
Bean will set up a special called meeting in early April with the county commission, the engineers who drafted the schools’ assessment, and the financial advisor who addressed the board on funding options.
Revisiting the discussion about Townsend School and the adjoining property, Bean recommended the empty 5.2-acres lot be declared surplus and put up for bid. Several interested parties have contacted Bean about purchasing the property. The board concurred with Bean’s recommendation. Bean will contact a nearby land owner to determine a minimum bid value. The property has not been appraised since purchased in 1952 for $1,312.50.
Turning to the 6-acre Townsend School site, Bean recommended the school district keep the football field and gym, and donate the other buildings along with 1.8-acres to Franklin County. The county had options for business development there, Bean said, and might want to use the annex for office space.
School board member Lance Williams expressed concern about donating the property to the county. “If they plan to donate it to another group, I’m not okay with that,” Williams insisted. “That would be giving away tax payer property.”
Several groups have asked the school system to donate the site to them, Williams pointed out, but legally the school system can’t donate property to a private entity, while the county could.
“We’d have no control over how the county used it,” said board member Linda Jones.
“If we put it up for bid, we’d have even less control over what goes on there,” Bean countered.
Tucker proposed if the board donated the property to the county, they might be able to put a restrictive covenant on the deed, qualifying future use. Tucker cited the example of the Sewanee Elementary School deed mandating ownership reverts to the University if the property will no longer be used for a school.
Tucker will research the restrictive covenant possibility and present his findings at the next board meeting March 12.