​Historic County Commission Vote Approves Middle Schools

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the Jan. 15 meeting, in a historic 14 to 2 vote, the Franklin County Commission overwhelming approved allocating $48 million for the construction of two new middle schools.
“It’s a great night for Franklin County,” said District 5, Seat A commissioner Johnny Hughes. “I’m so proud of my fellow commissioners who voted for it. The kids and the parents are the winners tonight, the future.”
More than three years ago, the school board authorized the capital building planning committee to engage an architectural engineering firm for advice on renovating the middle schools. Long debate followed with public opinion and the board ultimately favoring building over renovation, and two schools over a single large consolidated school.
In July of 2018, the county commission allocated $1.8 million for drawing up design plans, but uncertainty about whether the commission would allocate the funding for construction left the project in jeopardy.
Chief among problems at the 52-year old middle schools are chronic roof leaks, resulting from the flawed design of those buildings.
Echoing the sentiments of other commissioners, District 4, Seat B commissioner Chuck Stines said, “The problem started in 1968. It’s not the fault of any commissioner here or any school board member and not the fault of the officials who authorized the construction of the buildings in 1968. They didn’t intend to leave us a problem. We’ve kicked the can down the road for 51 years. We need to decide. There will be a property tax increase. Will we be the commission that does the right thing, or will we sit here and bang our heads against the wall?”
District 4, Seat A commissioner Greg King pointed out repairing the leaking roofs on the schools would cost $5 million each. King acknowledged operation costs would be less for one school, but stressed the delay and expense in drawing up a new design “would eat up the savings.” King also expressed concern the delay might result in a lawsuit or court ordered closing of the schools, which are infested with mold.
King also recommended “holding the line on the county budget spending, including raises until the new high school is paid off to minimize the property tax rate hike.”
Five commissioners spoke preliminary to the vote. All advocated authorizing $48 million for construction of two new schools.
Following comment by the commissioners, Commission Chair and County Mayor David Alexander asked, “Are there any tax payers that want to speak?”
Nearly every seat in the courtroom was filled. No one came forward.
Following the vote, the audience rose in a standing ovation.
“I think it’s significant that in a packed room, there was not a single person who came up to speak against it,” said District 5 School Board Representative Adam Tucker.
“It’s been a team effort,” said Director of Schools Stanley Bean. “The school board has been solid in support of the project. If not, the county commission wouldn’t have confidence in us. That’s what made the difference, everyone sticking together.”