JEFFERSON-A contingent from the Ashe County Board of Education came before Jefferson Aldermen Monday night to try to ease concerns and tensions within the community about the growing controversy surrounding the placement of a new middle school next to the old Gates Building in town.
This calming of the waters followed a list of questions from angry citizens that was previously directed to the school board. These citizens claim their voices were not heard or even sought after in the planning process when trying to decide where to put a school.
Last month, the school board entered a written agreement with Larry Dollar to purchase property that joins land that is home to American Emergency Vehicles. The school system has already put $15,000 down on the land to conduct testing necessary to prove if the site is suitable or not.
As it stands now, the 40 acres of land will be purchased at $40,000 an acre if the land is found suitable. Once the testing is complete, the school system will pay Dollar $45,000 to buy time for the county to arrange financing to pay for the land. The county will pay for the property using sales tax revenue.
It will be at least 2019 before the site will be available to the school system as one final Christmas tree harvest on the land awaits.
“The money to pay for the school is coming available right now, this is sales tax money,” reiterated school board member Lee Beckworth. “It’s not county tax money. There will be some county resources to pay for the school, but the majority of what paid for the high school and Westwood (Elementary) is sales tax revenue. The high school has been paid off. Westwood will be paid off next year. That will free up $ 1 million. That money is designated for school capital needs. It can’t be used for anything else. That’s why moving the new middle school process forward has been a priority for over 10 years.”
The need for a new middle school has weighed heavy on the school board for some time, said Beckworth
“We started this process 10 years ago,” said Beckworth. “The need has been there because Northwest Ashe High School (the current middle school site) was built in 1967. It’s outdated in many ways. It’s not up to code. It’s been grandfathered in a lot of areas where we would not be able to get away with today, as far as requirements from the state. I suspect our school is one of the only ones that provides 700 students with a spring.”
The other concern with the current middle school was the capacity of the sewer system along with lack of available space to build a new school.
“If we build a new school, we would want to build one for 6th,7th and 8th grades,” said Beckworth to the board. “That increases the numbers of students by 50 percent. You could imagine what kind of a system you would require. It would probably not be feasible. All the land that can leveled up there is leveled now. The vast majority of land there is now is in the mountain behind the school. It’s straight up and down and rocky.”
Beckworth said school officials looked at 12 different sites, including ones in Warrensville, but the site in Jefferson remained the best option with its water and sewer hookups.
Beckworth also addressed concerns of traffic.
“There have been comments that a 1,000 extra cars will be coming in Jefferson area with the new school,” said Beckworth. “Currently, at the middle school, 100-110 parents bring their child to school. About 40 parents pick up their kids from school. If we extrapolate to include 50 percent more students, we are adding 150-165 cars and approximately 60 cars in the afternoon. That’s far below what AEV brings in.”
Superintendent Phyllis Yates said traffic from AEV shouldn’t be a concern either as the factory and schools dismiss at different times and intervals.
Following his presentation to the Jefferson Aldermen, some residents said they still felt left out in the cold while conversations where being held concerning the school even though a public hearing was held by the school system early this year to seek input. One person spoke during that forum. Some residents said that one sparsely attended hearing was simply “not enough” and informed both boards that a mailed notice should’ve been sent to each potentially affected resident.
School officials stated that it is “still early” in the planning process of a new middle school and county and town residents will both be afforded the opportunity to provide feedback on what the school will look like.
Reach Jesse Campbell at 336-846-7164.