Sullivan BOE member upset over lack of transparency in search for facilities study firm

Rick Wagner • Feb 19, 2014 at 11:22 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County school board member Todd Broughton said he is upset with what he calls a “lack of transparency” in choosing an architectural firm to do a county school system facilities study.

Other school board members and the head of the school system say nothing is concrete yet because of a pending agreement for a joint Kingsport-Sullivan County facilities study.

In a nutshell, the lead architect interviewed by the school board in January as part of Red Chair Architects moved over to Community Tectonics shortly after the interview and a 6-1 Board of Education vote authorizing negotiations with Red Chair.

Hanging in the balance is a proposed joint facilities study of Sullivan County and Kingsport public schools.

Red Chair of Knoxville was one of four firms that submitted a request for qualifications (RFQ) and ultimately got the nod from the board, although Broughton said he voted against the motion because he wanted more time to study the proposals.

“That didn’t happen unless they met without me,” Broughton said. “It’s a flashback of scenario three,” Broughton said of the 2013 proposal to merge Sullivan North and South high schools into one school and use the other building as a middle school.

Out of that scenario and community uproar over it grew the planned facilities study, during which the board agreed to suspend solutions until a consultant gave a report on building condition, enrollment and demographics and program needs for facilities.

Broughton said Tuesday he is upset that Director of Schools Jubal Yennie has characterized the situation as “Red Chair doing business as Community Tectonics” and indicated the board was on board with negotiating with architect Don Shell regardless of him going from Red Chair to Community Tectonics. Shell and another Red Chair architect talked with Kingsport officials, who interviewed six who responded to the city RFQ.

The RFQ mentioned past experience of the “firm,” not individuals in it, and Broughton said Shell’s move seems to circumvent the RFQ’s intent.

Yennie, who has called the situation “convoluted,” said Wednesday that the first thing to be resolved is whether the city and county systems want to do a joint facilities study and to what extent.

“We have not met with the city (BOE) in over two years,” Yennie said.

But a joint study will be discussed during a work session between the two school boards Monday at 5:30 p.m. at the Domtar Cabin in Colonial Heights.

Yennie said negotiations with Shell, Community Tectonics and/or Red Chair are on hold until the city-county collaboration is decided, predicting both school boards would vote on a joint study during their respective early March meetings.

“There may be another decision out there,” Yennie said of choosing a consultant, adding that the situation is “very transparent to everybody who is paying attention now.”

However, Broughton said he was disappointed Yennie didn’t address the situation during the Feb. 3 county BOE meeting.

“That’s Red Chair (that responded to the RFQ), that’s not the new company,” Broughton said. “This whole thing is supposed to be transparent.”

Kingsport school officials have indicated a willingness to go beyond a simple condition of facilities report that the school system sought in a RFQ to a more comprehensive study done jointly with the county, but conditions outlined by Superintendent Lyle Ailshie include no consideration of consolidated schools, no city students assigned to a county school and no jointly operated facilities.

The issue is the city is nearing capacity in some of its schools, while the county has excess capacity.

Part of that is because of annexation, but city students under “managed choice” can choose to attend a city or county school, Another issue is there are fewer school-age students countywide, city and non-city, than in the past.

County BOE Chairman Dan Wells, like Yennie, said another vote on a consultant may be forthcoming.

“There’s been very limited negotiations,” Well said. “There’s still room to think about issues here relative to choice and what we are considering. That (6-1) vote doesn’t mean we don’t listen.”

Wells said one option is for the board to vote again to negotiate with Community Tectonics, not Red Chair.

“We could bring Community Tectonics back and revote, possibly,” Well said, adding that other respondents to the RFQ were well qualified.

BOE Vice Chairman Jack Bales said he believes the matter can be clarified and worked out Monday.

“That was not clear,” Bales said of Shell changing companies shortly after the interview. “I don’t know what to tell you. It is convoluted, like Dr. Yennie said.”

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