A Wilson County Board of Education work session to discuss creating Lebanon Middle School in the former Lebanon High School building drew harsh criticism from a packed house Monday night.
Director Mike Davis presented a plan to take more than 600 sixth- through eighth-graders from Southside Elementary, Tuckers Crossroads Elementary and Carroll Oakland Elementary schools and put them in the former Lebanon High School building, which hasn’t been used since May after students moved into the new high school just off South Hartmann Drive in August.
Ultimately, the issue failed to garner a motion, and the board voted unanimously to delay any action until after Jan. 1 to allow work with the Wilson County Commission to see if an estimated $30 million could be found to build a new middle school.
During the work session, the issue was a source of contention particularly with Wilson County Commissioner Mike Justice, who spoke to the board in the capacity of a parent of a Tuckers Crossroads student.
Justice offered the board the chance to see pictures of the old Lebanon High School and urged it to work with the commission to find a way to fund a new middle school.
“Don’t put my kid in that school,” Justice said. “As a commissioner, I’m saying come to us, and let’s build a school. You have been good to work with us. Let’s continue that.”
Justice described the plan as putting a middle school in the middle of an abandoned building. He also questioned whether the school had asbestos.
“I’ll go to work today to bring you a new middle school rather than the old Lebanon High School,” Justice said.
To that, board chairman Don Weathers issued a challenge.
“I’ll hold you to that, Mike,” he said.
Judy Wright, widow of W.A. Wright, then addressed the board.
“That place was a mess, and that was 23 years ago,” Wright said. “Our students are doing great at Southside Elementary School. I ask you to make the right decision for our students.”
About 100 concerned parents filled every seat at the board’s meeting hall with many lining the walls and spilling into the hallway. Many expressed their displeasure with the proposed plans.
Davis started laying out the plan that would include using the front portion of the former Lebanon High School building built in 1997, complete with 27 classrooms, band and chorus rooms, an auditorium and two gymnasiums.
He said upkeep with just utilities currently costs the board about $20,000 a month.
Board member Greg Lasater questioned how the middle school-age children could be kept on the same campus with Cumberland University students. Cumberland currently leases Nokes Lasater Field and its facilities for its football team. Lasater also asked why the issue was being brought up now.
“The motion to move forward with this has already been made,” said Weathers. “It was made about 2 ½ to three years ago. We are going to vote tonight to move forward with this.”
Davis said the need came about with overcrowding among the kindergarten through eighth-grade schools with as many as seven trailers being used as classrooms. He said each is leased by the board, and a cost savings could be seen by ridding the system of them, as well as increasing safety during bad weather.
Davis further said about $600,000 in food service costs would be needed to use the new school, though transportation costs would remain about even. Davis wasn’t sure about added computer costs.
Board member Bill Robinson questioned the move, asking whether students would get a better education at a kindergarten through eighth-grade school versus a new middle school.
“At the end of the day, it was a toss up,” Weathers said. “We looked at it from every angle one to 1 ½ years ago, so we were sure what we would do would be beneficial to our students.”
Weathers said the issue was discussed for the past two years, on and off, by the board.
Following more of Robinson’s questioning, Davis said extensive cleaning, painting and sealing has taken place since students moved to the new high school.
“If we didn’t have a new Lebanon High School, those kids would still be there today,” Weathers said.
In addition to the vote to defer action on the middle school, Lasater made a motion to have a plan created to expand Carroll Oakland and Tuckers Crossroads schools. Since there would be a cost involved in creating those plans, the board ultimately voted to wait until its December meeting until plan costs could be determined.
Upon Robinson’s request, the board also plans to hold a work session to further discuss the middle school creation. A date and time for the work session was not announced.