CLINCH VALLEY - The vast majority of Clinch residents who attended a public meeting Tuesday evening at Clinch School said they would prefer a newly constructed school over additions and renovations to the aging existing structure.
The question now is whether or not the Hawkins County Commission would be willing to fund a new school.
Either way a tax increase would be imminent if the commission agrees to fund the $30 million overall phase three building project. That $30 million figure includes the addition and renovation plan for Clinch.
If the Board of Education agrees to present the County Commission with a plan that includes a new Clinch School, the price tag goes up by an estimated $4.5 million.
Architect Don Solt has presented the board with a $5.3 million cost estimate for the renovation and addition project, and an estimated $9.8 million cost for a new school.
If the renovation and addition option is chosen for Clinch School, there will be no space on campus for further additions. That's the main reason the BOE decided last month to entertain the possibility of building a new school.
Director of Schools Clayton Armstrong told the standing-room-only crowd that convened Tuesday in Clinch School's auditorium this is a decision the community will have to live with for the next 25 to 30 years while the phase three project is being paid off. That's why the BOE wants to make the right decision, and why the board asked for input from the community Tuesday.
"We need to gauge the emotion attached to this building," Armstrong said. "If we were to choose the new school, and it was funded by the County Commission, as soon as the new school is complete this building is vacant. If it's vacant, the school board has no more need for this building ... and we all know there is a lot of community attachment to Clinch School as it now exists."
Every local resident who spoke Tuesday was in favor of a new school. Some who addressed the BOE said emotional attachment to the old school isn't the main issue.
Among the local residents who addressed the BOE were:
â€¢Ivan Greene who said, "I've got memories here too. I really enjoyed it. It suited the time. That was 1985 when I graduated, and a lot has changed since then. I also remember going to Cherokee and seeing what they had. It made you feel like an orphan when you came back home."
â€¢Millard Hartley said, "I went to school here and graduation in 1966 ... and we've got a lot of memories here. But I think, personally, it's time to move on."
â€¢Lee Hoellman said, "What I personally would like to see is a new school for the kids, but I'd love to see this place (the existing school) become a community center. So if somehow we could have our cake and eat it too, that would be fabulous."
â€¢Local firefighter Bill Bright said, "We dread the time that we get the call to come here. If it ever happens, it's not going to work out very well at all. The amount of coal dust under the floor of this building is tremendous, and it's a serious hazard. The school maintenance men do not want to go onto the roof of the gym, they're afraid something is going to happen. So if they're afraid to get on it, why are we putting our kids underneath it?"
â€¢Sherry Lamb said, "Clinch is not this building. Clinch is the people who are here, and the people who have been here and the people who will be here, wether it's a new school or not."Some speakers also noted that they have paid for other school projects with their county tax dollars for decades, and now it is their turn. Others characterized their K-12 school as being "third world."
Armstrong asked the crowd to raise their hands in an impromptu vote on whether they preferred the renovation and addition plan or the new school plan. Only about eight people voted in favor of the renovation and addition plan.
Aside from finding funding, the new project would create a vast array of logistical hurdles for the architect and the school board to overcome. The main hurdle would be finding about 15 acres of reasonably flat real estate for sale in the community.
One ideal location would be the pasture directly across Clinch Valley Road from the existing school. Principal Linda Long told the Times-News she's spoken to the owner of the property, a woman living in Nashville, who said she would be willing to sell it for a school. But the woman added that she would want to consult with her children, heirs in her will, before making such a decision.
Another hurdle would be bringing infrastructure to the new school such as electricity, a water treatment facility, a septic facility, site preparation and roads if the property is off from the highway.
Board Chairman Robert Stidham said he expects to hold BOE workshops later this month to further discuss phase three before the board votes on which plan it will present to the County Commission. Stidham said the goal now is for a BOE vote on the project plan in early April, and presentation to the commission's Budget Committee in mid-April.
Other aspects of phase three include 12 new classrooms at both high schools, a new 24-classroom school in Church Hill, and additions and renovations to Bulls Gap School.