School board member Diane Neeley stood her ground, alone, Tuesday night, voting against a motion to proceed with negotiations on two current land purchase offers on the table—acreage in proximity to Highway 231-North which is being studied to use for a new elementary school.
The other eight board members voted to proceed with the top two land offers and move ahead with discussions on the future building project. The two land owners are business persons Suzy Johnson and Tony Matusek.
Board member Brian Crews’ original motion was to recommend that the executive committee, which includes Director of Schools Tammy Garrett, continue negotiations with Johnson and Matusek. Board member Nicole Cashion seconded the motion and it carried 8-1.
Garrett said in the meeting that Assistant Director of Schools Tim Harwell and Daniel Kleindienst, director of facilities and maintenance, are to begin a capital outlay study surrounding future building needs within the system.
Garrett also requested during the meeting that Robert Daniel, Bedford County financial director, be added to the executive committee to renegotiate with Johnson and Matusek. Crews amended his earlier motion to include Daniel.
Neeley said Tuesday how she doesn’t believe the growth of this county is in the area of the Johnson and Mastusek properties. (This was post board member John Boutwell making a 2020 Census presentation on current and future population growth in the county. See Saturday’s Times-Gazette for that story.)
Neeley said at best, she was “disappointed.” She explained that while she appreciates preliminary studies being done by county architects Kline Swinney, the 4th district board member said she just isn’t convinced these properties are the most ideal spot, based on population growth.
She brought up how developing these properties could include potential across town busing as well as the fact that students inside city limits are still studying inside portables. Neeley advised the board to do more of a feasibility study of what’s really best overall for the county.
“I don’t feel we’ve done that the last several years,” said Neeley, who has served for over a decade on the board. “What are we truly looking at—future growth or immediate needs?”
Neeley also said she doesn’t believe that the director of schools, who took office last January, has had time to study a new school plan. Garrett, who was present, had no response to Neeley’s remark.
Johnson has offered her property at 437 by-pass and Fairfield Pike and Tony Matusek owns property near Peacock Lane. There was also an offer on the table for a “Kilgore Property,” but due to some topographical issues, that offer did not make the board’s final cut Tuesday night. (The price of the properties was not available at press time today.)
The Johnson property, according to county architect Bart Kline, was deemed the most viable of other sites by engineers for a new school project. Kline said the Johnson property is open with rich, organic soil and has been less harvested. As well, he mentioned the property’s immediate access to 437 by-pass.
There are also no historic burial sites or natural habitats sitting on the Johnson, Matusek or “Kilgore” properties, which Kline said can often delay or hinder some projects. With its immediate access to the by-pass, he said the Johnson property is ideal for the new elementary school.
The Matusek property, Kline said, appears to have been farmed more and causes some concern with narrow roads and blind spots (particularly an issue for buses.) There was also some concerns with right-of-ways and road shoulders.
Kline said all properties will have to be rezoned.
The “Kilgore property” was said to have been an issue of cost versus repair. Kline said there are some flood areas of concern.
The board dropped the Kilgore offer from the table before making its roll call vote.
When asked if 20 plus acres is necessary for an elementary school, Kline said that amount is generally recommended, if for nothing else, future expansion.
Neeley continued to stand firm, saying she doesn’t believe the school board is doing its due diligence by so quickly making these property decisions. She said the process warrants much more study.
Board member Crews, who works professionally as local deputy police chief, said these properties being considered present natural thoroughfares.
Garrett said in response, “We’re going to need to look at one [school] within the city limits, eventually.”
Michael Cook, who was recently selected as the board’s new chair, said after 3 years of discussion, it has become frustrating to him all the “should haves, could haves,” that have delayed projects. He pushed the board to move forward with the study of the Johnson and Matusek properties for the county’s new elementary school.