JEFFERSON-A proposed plan for a new middle school in Jefferson continues to draw scrutiny from town residents, but school officials say they still have few answers to their questions.
That news follows the most recent Ashe County Board of Education meeting held Sept. 12.
Kareis Wagner, who lives on North Main Street in Jefferson, told the five member board she was concerned about the proposed project and reminded the group that the school would serve all of Ashe County for decades to come.
“We want to know which sites were considered, what was the criteria,” Wagner said. “We believe that there are sites that are less expensive, less disruptive and fairer to all the families of this count, including those with children who will spend nearly four hours a day on a bus. We encourage the board to take a long term view and reconsider sites or reopen the search.”
District officials have long spoken about the need for a new facility to replace Warrensville’s aging Ashe County Middle School, which was built more than half a century ago. Informal discussions date back to at least 2013, when the board learned a consolidated school built to house grades 6-8 could cost upwards of $26 million.
No public action was taken to move the project forward until this spring, when the district held a sparsely attended forum at Ashe County High School to gain input on where the new school should be located. Only one person spoke at that session.
In August, however, the board of education announced it had begun negotiations to purchase approximately 40-acres of land owned by the Dollar family in Jefferson. The site sits nearly the newly expanded American Emergency Vehicle’s plant.
Preliminary negotiations could see the county pay some $1.6 million overall, or roughly $40,000 per acre to seal that deal.
The arrangement is anything but final, however, as the district must still test the site to make sure it could actually support the massive building project.
Shortly after the news of the proposed purchase broke last month, some Jefferson residents, including Bryan Huffman, said they started to take a hard look at the plan.
“We are out talking to people that knew nothing about it (the school),” Huffman said last month. “We (want to) get people to realize what’s going on and dig further into how all of this came to be and why (are they) spending $40,000 an acre to ruin a beautiful site in Jefferson that should be conserved.”
Jefferson’s Drew Martin echoed those concerns this week and told the board the school could bring traffic and congestion woes to the picturesque community.
“The other concern that we have is related to that; where the main location or public entrances are supposed to be,” Martin said. “How far along are the plans? Do they include the locations for the entrances and what those might be. We’re very curious to know more about the plan. We didn’t hear as much as we would have liked up to this point. We’re curious about the public notice efforts and would like to know more about the entire process and how it took place, but especially the plan that exists now so that we can be more prepared for this as it comes down the road.”
School board officials had little in the way of answers for those questions Sept. 12.
Ashe County Board of Education Chairman Charles King told the crowd the site testing hasn’t been finished and that the district remains in the same position it was in three weeks ago.
“When we know more we’ll let you know,” King said.
The Ashe County Board of Education will meet with the Jefferson Board of Aldermen Sept. 26.
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058.