OS, Midway to get school upgrades

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By Damon Lawrence

The Oliver Springs and Midway parts of the school building program are moving forward.

The Roane County Commission approved the funding last year. The bonds are scheduled to be bid today – Wednesday, according to Roane County Executive Ron Woody.

“Wednesday at 10:30, we’ll bid them out,” he said.

The building program calls for a new sewer plant for the Midway area schools and incorporating Oliver Springs High School in with Oliver Springs Middle School. The projects are estimated to cost around $6.4 million.

“We should have our money by the next Monday (April 22),” Interim Roane County Director of Schools Gary Aytes said during last week’s Board of Education meeting. “The Lewis Group will continue planning on this, so that hopefully we’ll get a timeline fairly soon on when we’ll be able to start, and we look forward to it.”

Lewis Group Architects is the firm out of Knox County that the Roane County Board of Education is working with on its building program.

Aytes spoke briefly about Lewis Group’s floor plan diagram for the Oliver Springs project at last week’s meeting.

“The office will almost be in the dead center,” he said. “You got two doors going in there. One will be for the high school entrance and one will be for the middle school entrance, and then it will be a joint office complex with the middle and high school together in one office area.”

According to the diagram, the middle school classrooms and high school classrooms will be on opposite sides of the building. In addition to the office, other shared spaces include a STEM lab, library, guidance and food service.

The project will also include a new gymnasium for the high school. School officials said the gym will be large enough for Oliver Springs High School to host district tournaments.

Woody said the total bond issue will be around $7.1 million because the county has to pay issuance cost, engineering and give a portion of the money to the Oak Ridge City School System.

The Roane County Commission is the funding body for the school system.

Commissioners may have to raise the property tax rate to pay for the bond issue.

“They are obligated to pay for their debt obligations,” Woody said.

“That doesn’t mean they have to raise taxes for it. They could cut a program somewhere and use that tax to pay for it or they could raise the tax. We informed them when they voted on it they were looking at a 2 to 4 cent tax increase.”

The biggest part of the school board’s building program is a new consolidated high school for Kingston, Harriman and Rockwood. That project, which previous estimates put around $60.4 million, remains in limbo.

“The Commission has not voted to approve issuing any bonds for the new school,” Woody said.

In addition, only two of 15 commissioners expressed support for it at the February commission meeting.

“I didn’t think it was the right plan that we needed and I still don’t think it’s the right plan because it’s closing three (high schools) and building one,” Commission Chairman Randy Ellis said Monday.

“I don’t think the public wanted that, and I just couldn’t support it.”