JEFFERSON-Ashe County School officials gave some early indications Tuesday morning that they are eyeing property near the county’s population center as a potential site for a new middle school.
Superintendent Todd Holden and his successor, Phyllis Yates – she’ll officially replace Holden when he begins his new position as Madison County’s superintendent July 1 – updated the Ashe County Board of Commissioners on the progress they’ve made in searching for a suitable site for the school.
District officials also briefed commissioners on the school’s possible designs and the options that could offer in terms of expansion in the future. They offered the presentation during budget discussions with commissioners at the Ashe County Courthouse.
Following a public forum last month that was intended to elicit feedback from county residents on where the new middle school should be, Holden said he received a handful of phone calls from parents who said they would like to see the school near the county’s population center and not the geographic midpoint.
County Manager Sam Yearick noted the advantages of building a middle school close to Jefferson and West Jefferson. He said the move would allow the school to be close to law enforcement and the hospital.
Following the presentation, the Jefferson Post asked Yates if land has already been purchased for a new middle school. She declined to comment on specifics of any potential deal.
“That has not been finalized and we are not ready to make that available to public,” she said.
Holden said Tuesday afternoon he hopes the deal for the land transaction for the middle school will be completed within a month. He also gave some other hints about the future location of the middle school without being too specific.
Holden confirmed the middle school will be near the town of West Jefferson and Jefferson while not too far removed from the northwest part of the county.
While school officials are looking at several pieces of property, this one in particular stands above the rest, he said.
The top prospect is also septic and sewer ready as sanitation was a top concern while looking to revamp the current middle school.
Holden said it would’ve cost $2 million to replace the old sewer and septic system.
County officials made several references to the immediate area and Yearick noted that Fleetwood would be one of the fastest growing areas once the U.S 221 widening project is completed.
Commissioner Larry Rhodes gave a caveat to school officials prior to adjourning. He urged Yates and Holden to seek out land that would accommodate both current and future needs.
When planning to combine the West Jefferson and Fleetwood schools, Rhodes said the county erred in picking the current location for Westwood because of the presence of wetlands on the property. He also noted the lack of space at the current site.
“You can’t kick a field goal from the field without it going in the road,” said Rhodes.
Commissioner Gary Roark said the school system should build for “60 years down” the road and not just tomorrow.
Although they are still in the early stages of design, Holden said current renderings could allow for the expansion of new classrooms on each wing of the proposed building.
In previous interviews, district officials have estimated the cost to build a new school at some $26 million.
Following in-depth discussions on the future middle school, commissioners also reviewed the recommended budget appropriations for fiscal year 2016-17.
Commissioners came to a consensus on the proposed funding for schools.
Ashe schools are currently funded at $4.64 million in current expense, $100,000 in capital outlay, $118,072 in technology funds and $5,000 for recurring expenses for the middle school’s swimming pool. Altogether, the system is funded $5.28 million for the upcoming fiscal year.
“This is the first time in all the years that I’ve been here that we’ve got everything we wanted,” said Yates to commissioners before leaving.
Reach Jesse Campbell at 336-846-7164.