BLOUNTVILLE - Sullivan County may turn to the Knox County & Knoxville Public Building Authority (PBA) for advice on if, when and where to build future county schools.
Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey and Claude Smith, construction project manager for the county, traveled to Knoxville recently to talk about it, Godsey told the Sullivan County Commission earlier this week.
Godsey said he and Smith talked with PBA officials about a contract with Sullivan County to conduct a study of long-term needs of the Sullivan County school system.
The County Commission has asked repeatedly for such a study.
Godsey said the PBA won't provide an estimated cost until its board of directors votes on whether or not to allow PBA staff to conduct the study for Sullivan County.
According to the PBA's Web site, its board of directors was scheduled to meet this past Monday - but the meeting was canceled.
"I don't believe they've talked about it yet, or they would have been in touch with us one way or the other," Smith said.
The PBA's primary focus is building projects for Knox County and the city of Knoxville, Smith said, but it also provides services by contract to other governments.
Smith said the PBA recently completed a school facilities study for Loudon County.
The PBA's normal procedure is to first evaluate all of a school system's buildings, Smith said.
"But that's not what we need - we need to have it evaluated first as to whether we need buildings ... or not," Smith said. "They said if they can do it for us, they'll reverse their way of doing things and give us what we want first. They'll look at the potential for growth, and the present growth level and what it will be five, 10 or 20 years down the road.
"For example, on Bloomingdale, if we need a school in Bloomingdale, we may close up and tear down Brookside, Kingsley and Cedar Grove (elementary schools) and build one new school to take care of that. There are a lot of unknowns until you really delve into it. That's why we don't want the buildings studied until the last thing, until we know whether we need the buildings or not."
The County Commission voted in January to at some point in the future vote on a $50 million bond issue for school construction projects. A major reason cited by commissioners who didn't want to borrow the money anytime soon was the need for a study of the school system's long-term needs.
At one point, commissioners asked that the study be completed by the end of November. But by the time the vote was taken, that stipulation had been removed.
Sullivan County Commissioner Ralph Harr, who first proposed the $50 million for schools in December, said his main goal was to get two new elementary schools built for the county's school system - one in the Bloomingdale area, near Kingsport, and one in the east end of the county, near Piney Flats.
In order to get the issue to a vote in January, Harr removed any specifics about locations or grade levels from the resolution.
The commission asked for a study more than 18 months ago, but it never materialized - some have said the commission's allocation of $12,000 for the job just wasn't enough for a serious stab at it. In contrast, the city of Bristol recently spent about $130,000 for a study of its much smaller school system's future needs.
The $50 million bond issue 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 that system. Law requires the money be split because city residents pay county property taxes - which would be used to pay back the $50 million.