As one of the “loud and relentless” Wilson County commissioners referred to in Commissioner Wendell Marlowe’s letter to editor, I would like to clarify my stance on the proposed high school to be built on Highway 70 in Mt. Juliet.
First, I will say that I hope all Wilson County commissioners support education in our county. I know I do. But our support cannot be blind; it must be given in good conscience based on best cost practices for new building projects and fiscal responsibility for Wilson County citizens’ tax dollars.
The Wilson County Commission’s support of schools in our county is reflected by the fact that most of our high schools are, by structural standards, brand new. At 15 years old, Wilson Central High School is the oldest high school in the county; Mt. Juliet High School is nine years old; Lebanon High School is five years old; and Watertown is three years old. We, as commissioners, are tasked with balancing needs such as new schools with funds – taxes collected from Wilson Countians. While it is true the land for the proposed Highway 70 high school has already been purchased at a cost of about $5 million, why has the property never been developed despite its prime commercial and residential location? The reason is the property is primarily a 100-plus feet deep ravine. The commission was not able to get this fact from the assistant director of schools, but I found it easily on a U.S. Geological Survey topographical map. The site preparation will be extensive and expensive.
Perhaps that is why the school administration is asking Wilson Countians to pony up $110 million for the site prep and building of the school. How can that be fiscally responsible when Maury County is opening a new 2,000-plus student high school in Columbia for $47 million? In fact, the old building was demolished, and a new one was built for that amount.
How can it be fiscally responsible when Lebanon High School was built five years ago for less than $45 million? And while we’re asking questions, why aren’t school building projects put out to bid? Why is a new high school under consideration to be built in the northwest part of the county when most of Wilson County’s growth is happening in the southwest part of the county? How much will it cost to build the new road and parking lots on this site? How much will it cost to relocate the existing 8-inch, 12-inch and 20-inch water mains?
Nobody knows the answer to that since no plans have been submitted to the West Wilson Utility District. Why won’t the school administration consider adding on to the existing schools since they were designed specifically for that purpose?
I am elected by the constituents of Wilson County’s Fifth District to ensure their tax dollars are spent wisely, and I imagine all Wilson Countians expect the same from their commissioners. We are vocal and ask questions, but that does not mean we do not support education, because we certainly do.
My intention is to ask every question my constituents expect me to ask and, if that causes some to label me as an obstructionist, then so be it. I would rather be called that than an apologist for a runaway school administration.
District 5 Wilson County Commissioner Jerry McFarland