County continues probe into school construction

Xavier Smith • Feb 13, 2018 at 8:04 PM

The Wilson County Commission continued its probe into school construction costs Tuesday during a joint meeting with the Wilson County Board of Education and the district’s design team.

Last year, the Wilson County Commission approved $1.5 million for Wilson County Schools to conduct design services for a potential new high school in Mt. Juliet, which has been the center of skepticism from some commissioners.

The design authorization does not signify the groups’ commitment to spend $110 million for a new high school, which is the estimated cost. 

The work session was intended to answer some questions that have surrounded the potential high school on North Green Hill Road in Mt. Juliet.

Jason Morris with Kaatz, Binkley, Jones and Morris Architects discussed aspects of the potential high school, as well as current high schools in Wilson County.

Morris said the only current high school that could receive an addition for classroom space and remain at or less than the 2,000-student threshold set by the school board is Watertown High School.

Morris said any vertical additions would cause student relocation because of the dangers of construction and couldn’t be completed in summer months when students are out of school.

Morris also noted the site costs for previous high schools, with Watertown and Mt. Juliet costs at $4.5 million, while Lebanon’s cost was $5.5 million. Gladeville Middle School, currently under construction, site cost was $4.9 million, according to Morris.

Morris also said material costs have probably doubled in recent years.

Rob Porter with Civil Site Design Group discussed aspects of the land, which he said does not include any sinkholes, and school design would protect a speculated slave cemetery on the site. Porter said the site was in a good location in terms of water and utility service.

Craig Johnson with R.G. Anderson Co. said based on the Middle Tennessee market, his company estimates a new high school could cost $195 to $215 per square foot, which he said is based on rising material and labor costs.

Wilson County finance director Aaron Maynard said it would cost an additional 12-18 cents added to the property tax rate to fund a new high school in Mt. Juliet, unless a new funding source is found, dependent upon how the debt payment is structured.

Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto said the county was on schedule with the district’s building plan, introduced two years ago, and the $1.5 million commitment would keep the county on par with the plans if the commission agrees to fund the Mt. Juliet high school in the first half of this year.

“In May, you would know everything and can sit down and talk about [options] and make a decision. At that time, they would be done with the design phase, and it would be able to go out to bid,” Hutto said last year.

The timeline would leave about 26 months for construction before a targeted opening in 2020.

The group will meet again Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Wilson County Courthouse to continue to discuss the project.

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