Editor’s Note: The following is an installment in a four-part series looking at three potential plans for Lebanon Middle School and the effects each has on student learning.
The former Lebanon High School shined like a new penny Saturday with smells of new paint and cleaner in the air as Wilson County Board of Education members met in a work session to allow concerned parents and community members to tour one of the proposed sites to house Lebanon Middle School.
But about 150 people who turned out for the meeting – many concerned about the future of middle school students currently at overcrowded Carroll Oakland, Southside and Tuckers Crossroads elementary schools – remained reluctant to concede the old Lebanon High School building was the right place to house the current 637 middle schoolers and 30 teachers.
During the nearly 2 ½-hour long meeting, the board, along with Director of Schools Mike Davis fielded a flurry of concerns from parents, students, teachers and community members from all directions.
Architect Jason Moore offered three proposals for the future of middle school students who reside or will live in areas surrounding the Lebanon city limits. Among the proposals were alternate plans within each.
The plans include using the old Lebanon High School building to house a new Lebanon Middle School; making additions to Carroll Oakland, Southside and Tuckers Crossroads elementary schools; and building a new Lebanon Middle School building near the new Lebanon High School campus. Included within the course of action the board ultimately takes would be whether it keeps the three schools in question kindergarten through eighth-grade in format or moves to a middle school concept, such as what’s in place at Mt. Juliet and Wilson Central schools.
In the first plan, which would be to use the old Lebanon High School, an option was offered to lock down parts of the building built more than a half century ago.
“There is no way I would recommend or we want students housed in the 1954 portion of the building,” Davis said.
Another option within the first plan would be to tear down the oldest classrooms and still another option includes adding a new media center.
In all scenarios associated with using the former high school, sprinkler systems, handrails at ramps and some stairs would need to be added. A $600,000 renovation of the school’s cafeteria would also have to take place.
“The thing that would really need to be fixed is the kitchen,” Davis said.
Moore said mold found would also have to be removed. The school’s science labs, renovated in 1989, meet code when tested for asbestos but will need emergency gas shutoff systems, according to Moore.
“If we are to sprinkler this building, it gives us a lot of options,” Moore said.
Depending on the option the board selects, construction and renovation costs of using the old Lebanon High School would range between $1.7 million and $7 million, and those figures don’t include technology needs, desks or other items needed for student use.
Davis said the unused former Lebanon High School building costs the board about $30,000 a month in utilities.
Moore said mechanical and electrical needs were addressed in the plans given to the board free of charge, but he said the school’s plumbing wasn’t examined. Later, during a tour of the school, parents observed brown water coming from water fountains.
Davis said no lead paint or pipes were in the school after the board was questioned about the potential for poisoning.
“We wouldn’t put your children where they would be subjected to that,” Davis said.
Davis said the fire marshal rated the school to hold up to 850 people.
The use of the old Lebanon High School building appeared to receive the most opposition.
“You’re not in the best neighborhood,” said a member of the crowd. “You are subjecting out children. Would you like to come and sit in this building every day?”
Another crowd member asked about security at the school with Cumberland students using athletic facilities at Nokes Lasater Field next door. Davis said Cumberland University officials plan to put up a fence separating the stadium from the school should it be the plan the board selects.
“We have to make decisions based on facts, not emotions,” Davis said.
A man, who described himself as the president-elect of a Middle Tennessee organization, claimed he met with elected officials recently. He said Rep. Mark Pody told him Tennessee State University and Cumberland University were actively seeking to buy the old Lebanon High School building. He also said Pody told him the state could take the school over if students weren’t using the school by a certain date.
Board chairman Don Weathers said there were no buyers, and “the state can’t take if from us because we own the building.”
Possibly the most emotional question came from Southside Elementary School seventh-grader Dylan Allison, who asked, “What makes you think you can do this to us?”
Mother Janelle Allison followed her son’s question with, “This is a family school, and what you are doing is separating these students.”
Ultimately, Davis and the board concluded the meeting pledging to have a question-and-answer session at the school prior to January when the board is expected to make a decision on the future of Lebanon Middle School.
To get a closer look at the old Lebanon High School from Saturday’s tour, go to spotted.lebanondemocrat.com.
Director of content Jared Felkins may be reached at 615-444-3952, ext. 13 or firstname.lastname@example.org.