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Board tables motion to buy land for school

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The Germantown Board of Education has decided to hit the pause button on plans to purchase land for a future school.

Noting “angst” over the location of the property, board members voted 4-1 this week to table a motion to purchase 31.3 acres near Winchester Road and Crestwyn Drive in the southeast portion of the city.

Board Member Ken Hoover said he would like to see a public forum scheduled to hear from residents before selecting a location for the future K-8 or elementary school.

“We need an event to track community input,” he said. “This is a forever decision. Where we put the school is always where the school will be.”
Board Chairman Linda Fisher agreed.

“We have more questions and I’d like to see them answered,” she noted.

Subsequently a public forum has been scheduled for 6 p.m. on Sept. 28 at Houston High School to discuss land options.

Betsy Landers, the newest board member, said she sensed “a great deal of unrest” from residents over the proposed location of the land.

Lisa Parker was the lone board member to vote in favor of the site. Noting that the city would have a 4-month “review period” to inspect the property should the purchase be made, Parker said Germantown will only be out $100 in earnest money if the agreement is terminated by Jan. 31, 2017.

“In my heart of hearts,” she said, “I really think that we can go ahead and look at this site. If it doesn’t work out then that’s OK. We’ve only lost $100.”

The Germantown Board of Mayor and Aldermen took the initial step in constructing a new school earlier this month when it voted 5-0 to make a $33,000 deposit on the land, which is owned by Regency Homebuilders in the newly rezoned Forest Hill Heights.

Over the past year, city officials have researched suitable sites for the Germantown Municipal School District (GMSD).

“This is a very suitable and attractive site for the new school,” said City Administrator Patrick Lawton. “We explored several other sites and have discounted those sites.”

Lawton added that the property meets “two critical search criteria.”

“Size,” he said, “and being located south of Poplar Ave.”

Lawton said the current owner was initially interested in developing the property into a residential subdivision.

“However, they are interested in selling if certain contingencies are me by both parties.”

Mayor Mike Palazzolo said the city has a 140-day purchase option on the property to “do intense due diligence” to see if it is “suitable for all of our needs.”

“The way the contract is structured,” he added, “there are some very easy out clauses.”

The asking price for the property is $1.1 million.

Regarding the need for the new school, GMSD Student Services Director Chauncey Bland noted that Dogwood Elementary currently has 893 students, making 109 percent of the building utilized.

“Farmington Elementary is 135 students over optimal capacity,” he said. “Houston Middle School has taken in 103 new students since last year.”

Addressing critics who believe the city should regain the three namesake schools currently operated by Shelby County Schools (SCS) rather than build a new structure, Palazzolo said the city can’t wait.

“We can build new or we can wait for SCS,” he said. “Or, we can take a dual track and work on both. That’s what we’ve done since day one.

“We have good will built with SCS,” he continued. “They are doing a facilities assessment analysis this fall but we are not in their priority scope right now.

“Those conversations continue,” he concluded, “but we can’t put our fate and future in the hands of another school district or the leadership of this greater county.”

Once land is purchased for the future school, Lawton said the cost of building an elementary school can range from $20 to $25 million.

“This project,” he said, “is not going to be a cheap project.”

Palazzolo urged fellow board members to move forward.

“Today we begin the process of taking one step forward,” he said. “That process begins tonight. It then moves to the next step, which will be at the GMSD level to see if this site is suitable.”