County Department of Education Building Funding Approved

Department Of Education, Historic Downtown Dandridge, TNStaff Photo by Jeff Depew

Department Of Education, Historic Downtown Dandridge, TN
Staff Photo by Jeff Depew

The historic Department of Education building located in Dandridge will soon get a nearly $1.3 million dollar face lift and renovation thanks to action taken in a called meeting of the Jefferson County Commission that was held Monday evening, February 12, 2018 in the Historic Jefferson County Courthouse. Seventeen Members of the twenty one member body of the County Commission were present to address the question of additional funding in the amount of $328,000 to be added to an already earmarked more than $900,000 for the renovation of the DOE building. The additional funds were to establish walls in the upstairs office space rather than returning to the cubical design that was previously in the building. Department of Education officials requested the change to allow easier compliance with HIPPA laws which require privacy. It also included an extended warranty on a proposed new HVAC unit that was a part of the initial funding and awnings to help with moisture issues.

The total proposed package for the renovation of the DOE building was just north of $1,278,000. While the initial funding was approved by the County Commission several months ago, the additional funding failed to find favor with the full body when it was presented at the last voting meeting. Commissioner Jim Carmichael, who was on the prevailing side of the vote, requested a called meeting to take a second look at the additional funding. He made a motion, which was 2nd by Commissioner David Seal, to approve the additional funding of $328,777 for the renovation package and for those additional funds to come from fund balance. Carmichael acknowledged that there is generally a difference in price with the change of the scope of work but pointed out that a local company with local employees would be doing the work and that would add to the economy. Several other Commissioners spoke in regard to the funding of the project, with most finding viability in sustaining the current location of the County offices and noting that some level of renovations would be necessary should the building ever be sold. District One Commissioners Huffaker and Kesterson concurred that removal of the County offices would be a potential hardship on the downtown area of Dandridge and Commissioner Seal added that his district has been vocal that they are willing to fund the upkeep of historical county buildings.

While many were in favor of renovation, Commissioner McGraw stated that he was withdrawing his support for the project because he favors a County Complex and turning the historic buildings into a museum and meeting space. He also suggested that different County investments could offset the cost of the current Department of Education lease which is $55,000 annually. Commissioner Beeler requested additional information on the extended warranty and awnings before adding his support for the project and Commissioner Douglas noted the ongoing cost of the lease agreement with First Tennessee Bank for the Department of Education. Budget Committee Chairman Scarlett stated that the money is currently in the general fund balance to complete the renovation project without taking on more debt. He also pointed out that pulling County offices out of the downtown area in Dandridge could result in a situation much like the one in Jefferson City’s historic district where the community is fighting to bring life back to the dying area. Scarlett noted that collapsing the area would result in a loss of sales tax and could have a long term detrimental impact on Dandridge. He also stated that state law would make any move a dicey proposition due to boundary restrictions. Commissioner Turner, who supported the renovation project, called for a large scale maintenance plan for County and School buildings.

Ultimately, the full body voted 15-2 ( Commissioners Gaut and McGraw voting No) in favor of the additions to the renovation project and also voted in favor of the budget amendment that moved the funds to the appropriate line items for use. According to Jefferson County Finance Director Potts the County General Fund Balance will sit at $548,000 after the movement of the additional renovation funds.

Department Of Education, Historic Downtown Dandridge, TNStaff Photo by Jeff Depew

Department Of Education, Historic Downtown Dandridge, TN
Staff Photo by Jeff Depew

Source: K. Depew, News Director

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