Editorial: Enough grandstanding over West Ridge

Editorial Board • Apr 8, 2019 at 6:00 PM

All they had to do was ask for a financial update. But Sullivan County Commissioners Hershel Glover, Dwight King and Joyce Crosswhite tied it to an empty threat to halt construction of West Ridge High School, needlessly stirring waters that had finally calmed after contracts for the new high school had at last been signed.

If there was a point to that, it escapes us.

The trio introduced a resolution on first reading, meaning no vote was expected or taken, demanding to know if the school board had sufficient funds to complete its construction and renovation projects. It opened a lengthy and sometimes terse conversation among commissioners including the issue of busing students to the new school and even balancing the cost of building and renovating schools against future jail and road construction needs.

And it was all unnecessary since the Sullivan County Board of Education has no problem providing information on finances for the construction projects and will even make Finance Director Ingrid DeLoach, Maintenance Supervisor Charlie Hubbard and Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski available to answer questions.

But even should commissioners not be satisfied and pass the resolution to halt work on West Ridge, it will be ignored, says county school board Chairman Michael Hughes. “There’s no inclination on my part to pause the project,” Hughes said. And as Sullivan County Attorney Dan Street told commissioners, the resolution, if passed, would not be binding on the school board.

Construction of West Ridge and Sullivan East Middle, an addition to Dobyns-Bennett High School and a new Vance Middle School in Bristol have been funded by a $140 million countywide bond issue. Kingsport used $20 million of its share of bond proceeds to purchase the former North High School from the county for use as a middle school.

East Middle is running about $23 million in costs and West Ridge about $68 million, although some of the West Ridge money is coming from savings. Some East Middle money for sewer service for that school and the existing East High is to come from money the school board set aside for that purpose.

We get that county commissioners are concerned about cost overruns on the school projects even as they are feeling pressure over coming financial decisions related to jail overcrowding.

But one thing at a time, please.

And attempting to hold a school construction project hostage because past commissions failed to do their duty and address the jail situation is nothing more than political grandstanding.

And it’s petty.

Originally, West Ridge was supposed to open in the fall of 2020 and East Middle in the fall of 2019, but because of excessive rain, the high school opening date has been pushed back to the fall of 2021 and the middle school to January 2020.

Enough with the theatrics. The projects have already been delayed due to weather, and it is of no benefit to county residents for commissioners to act against them in any way.

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