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County school board votes to close on Colwell property, increase spending for more land

Posted on Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 10:55 am

The Coffee County School Board appears one step closer to officially purchasing the Colwell property on State Route 53 to construct a new middle school, but some hurdles do remain.

The board voted 4-2 Monday afternoon to allow Director of Schools Dr. LaDonna McFall to close on the land pending a sewer permit from the State of Tennessee.

“We are waiting on the sewer permit to be issued to us from Nashville and it is my understanding that is strictly a formality,” said McFall.

Board members Brett Henley and Gary Nester voted against the measure, which was put on the table by a motion from Marilyn Morris and a second from Freda Jones. Reggie Johnson and chair person Esther Sims also voted in favor of McFall moving in to close the deal. Shannon Duncan was absent from the meeting.

Potential land issues appeared to be the snag for Henley and Nester.

“I’m concerned about potentially spending $600,000-plus if 18-feet of dirt had to be moved,” said Henley, speaking about an area of soft soil that has been called into question on the land. “Those are the cost figures I understood.”

Henley was adamant that the $600,000 figure was estimated by construction company American Constructors and architects to be in addition to $1 million estimated in site preparation, saying at one point that he would rescind his statement if proven wrong. The board recessed to contact American Constructors Vice President Matt Moore who said the potential dirt problem related to soft soil that may need to be addressed was, in fact, included in the overall site preparation cost. Henley still voted no.

“We asked [Moore] if the site prep would be an extra $600,000 and he said, ‘no,'” explained McFall.

Another snag facing the school board is the purchase of what is being labeled as the “Holmes property.” The Holmes property, which rests at the corner of the Colwell site and between the Colwell site and Woodbury Highway, could be beneficial to hook New Uniion up to the new sewer line and to move the location of the school, but is not necessary.

“We can do the New Union sewer without the Holmes property,” deputy director Joe Pedigo told the board after Jones asked if the sewer could be connected without the Holmes property. “The Holmes property does simplify the sewer.”

The big snag now is cost of the Holmes property, which has slipped into foreclosure. At a prior meeting, the board voted to purchase the property, which houses a duplex, for up to $50,000. Monday, the board upped that amount to the tax-appraised value of the property of $98,700 and justified the increase by saying the property is needed to ensure the school can be moved North on the property to avoid costly site prep costs involving soft soil.

But Pedigo said the school can likely be moved to avoid that without the Holmes property.

“The report from Hastings [Architecture] and American [Constructors] is that by purchasing the site we save money in site prep,” McFall told the board. “It would significantly reduce the contingency money for site prep and possibly eliminate it.”

“If you shift the school without the Holmes property you are putting the building behind the duplex,” Pedigo said when Sims asked if the building could be shifted without the Holmes property. “If it is moved North to get it off the soft soil it’ll be behind the duplex. It would also put a curve in the driveway.”

McFall said the additional price may be necessary because board attorney Frank Van Cleave felt like a purchase of $50,000 wouldn’t be possible.

Morris, Johnson, Jones and Sims voted to increase the spending cap for the property to $98,700. Henley and Nester voted against that measure.