ROGERSVILLE - The Hawkins County Board of Education approved its $38.4 million building project Thursday evening, and now it's time for the County Commission to decide how, or if, it will fund the project.
Judging by the number of commissioners who attended Thursday's joint informational workshop, the project might turn out to be a tough sell.
Five of the 21 Hawkins County commissioners attended the joint workshop in which architect Don Solt laid out the plans and the estimated cost. There was an Industrial Committee meeting scheduled for the same time as the joint workshop, and that committee is composed of seven commissioners.
That left another nine commissioners unaccounted for. Education Committee Chairman Virgil Mallett said after the workshop that the poor attendance may be an omen.
"That tells you something," Mallett said. "If they were real gung ho about this project, you'd think they'd be here."
Mallett is also a longtime member of the commission's Budget Committee and became that committee's chairman earlier this month. Speaking for himself, Mallett said it's too early in the upcoming budget process to take a position on the school building project.
"If the vote was tomorrow, I couldn't go one way or the other," Mallett said. "I've got to see what kind of a deal we'd get on our bond, how much new revenue we'll need to finance this, and what it's going to mean to the tax rate. And don't forget, the county budget covers highways, the sheriff's department and every other county department, not just the schools, and they're all going to be making funding requests.
"When everybody has their budget requests in, we'll have a better idea of what the big picture will be."
Aside from Mallett, the other commissioners in attendance for Thursday's joint meeting were Danny Alvis, Gorman Lipe, Shane Bailey and Carmel Maddox.
Solt laid out for them the entire phase three building project, which includes new schools in Clinch and on the Church Hill Middle School campus, additions to both high schools, and an addition and renovation to Bulls Gap School.
Actual construction costs are estimated at $34 million. But state law dictates that Kingsport and Rogersville, which have their own school systems operating in Hawkins County, will receive a share of the bond to fund the project based on population ratios, and that brings the total up to $38.4 million.
Following Solt's presentation, Director of Schools Clayton Armstrong stressed the importance of not putting the project off. He recalled the Cherokee and Volunteer high school projects which were put off three years due to arguments over their locations and ended up costing twice as much due to inflation during the delay.
"Hawkins County has been identified in Nashville as the 20th-fastest-growing county in the state, and if this continues we know we've got to build schools and classrooms," Armstrong said. "The time is now. It's not going to get any cheaper. The problem is not going to go away. I jokingly said before I announced my retirement that my goal in life was to raise people's taxes. It is, for public schools. This is our future.
"I also said that after June 30 I'm going to be against taxes because I'm going to be on a fixed income. However, I know that my quality of life as a retiree is dependent on the atmosphere of our public schools - attracting industry and higher-paying jobs."
The building project will be presented as a resolution to the Hawkins County Commission for consideration in May. The first discussion on the subject could be a soon as the next scheduled Budget Committee meeting on May 21, although the final commission decision could take weeks or months.
The project was passed by the BOE by a vote of 6-1. Board member Perry Dykes offered the only dissenting vote.
Dykes has stated that he opposes building the new Church Hill school on the campus of CHMS and would prefer a new location that will allow for future growth.