Study of Sullivan County schools starting

J. H. Osborne • Oct 27, 2007 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — The county attorney hasn’t seen a final contract for the work, but a much-discussed study of the Sullivan County school system’s long-term needs has gotten under way in recent weeks.

It could ultimately provide a strategy for spending a $50 million bond issuance supported by a majority of county commissioners earlier this year.

In July, the Sullivan County Commission voted to hire the Knox County Public Building Authority (PBA) to conduct the potentially two-part study.

The cost: up to $132,000.

In August, the project was deemed on hold because of concerns over wording in a contract submitted for county approval by the PBA.

At that month’s Sullivan County Commission meeting, County Mayor Steve Godsey said the work on the study wouldn’t begin until the wording problem was resolved.

There had been a push to vote on the issue in July because it was said the PBA wanted to start work as soon as the school year began.

County Attorney Dan Street has said the issue with the contract was that the PBA initially included a “hold harmless” clause that’s unlike any he’s ever seen.

It basically said the county won’t hold the PBA responsible even if the PBA makes an error, Street said.

He recommended the county not agree to that contract.

Street, in answer to questions from the Times-News on Friday, said when he first asked for changes to that portion of the contract, the PBA’s attorney refused.

He said he was later told the agency would be receptive to some changes in the wording and he made some suggestions — which were also rejected by the PBA’s attorney.

Street said he then proposed what would be considered a “standard” hold-harmless clause.

“I’ve never heard back from them,” Street said.

Knox County PBA officials have, nonetheless, met with school and county planning officials in recent weeks to get the project rolling.

The first phase will focus on utilization of current school facilities, city annexation plans, and attempt to predict where school enrollment will grow — or decline — in the years ahead. School officials have been giving the PBA such information as bus routes, numbers of classrooms at individual schools, and numbers of students at individual schools.

Phase two of the study would include evaluation of actual buildings, based on which schools phase one says will be needed.

The county commission first voted in favor of such a study about two years ago — but authorized only $12,000, at most, to fund it. A proposal in late 2006 to issue $50 million in bond debt for school construction projects revitalized the call for a study.

In January, the commission voted in favor of the $50 million bond issue, at least in concept. That vote included no timeframe for when the bonds would be issued.

The $50 million would be split among the county’s school system, Kingsport’s city school system, and Bristol Tennessee’s city school system. The amount each system would receive would be based on average daily attendance in each system. Tennessee law requires that the money be split because city residents also pay county property taxes — which would be used to pay back the $50 million.

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