Board Votes To Proceed With Building Search

High School Principal Michele Webb watches a student quartet that performed at tonight's meeting. (McFarlin photo).

By Shannon McFarlin WENK/WTPR News Director

Paris, Tenn.—Upon recommendation of Henry County Director of Schools Dr. Brian Norton, the district board of education Thursday night gave the green light to finding a new location for the district central office. The board specifically authorized Norton and the board’s facilities committee to continue pursuing purchase of another building for the central office.

Near the close of Thursday evening’s lengthy session, Dr. Norton said the Promise Land building on Hwy. 79N is the most suitable that district officials have looked at. “I would recommend proceeding on pursuing this facility, but not making an offer until we have more information,” he said.

The central office presently is located in the historic Grove Tower, which is over 100 years old. A community project in the 1980s raised money to save and restore the structure. Norton emphasized that no one on the board and no school officials have ever discussed tearing down the building, but that safety concerns were brought up in an architectural report that was presented at a public meeting in 2016.

Norton said the Promise Land facility is attractive in that “it’s the first one that we’ve looked at that could be renovated to meet our needs and converted to office space. This place was as close to perfect as any we have found, but we’re not ready to make an offer because we still have questions.”

Board Member Jim McCampbell said he looked at the Promise Land facility with a local realtor and that the building is a wood frame structure “with a very short life. Someone on the next school board a few years from now will be looking at another building. There are two lots that go along with the building but I’m not sure we could come up with an adequate septic system.” McCampbell made the motion to authorize Norton to look at facilities in which to move the central staff.

Norton noted the board has been discussing building projects for about three years and a central question was: What about the Grove Tower? In the fall of 2015, the board approved a structural study and received the report in 2016. Norton said the report said while theoretically possible to do structural improvements on Grove Tower, it might not be financially possible. 

“So, do we put money into Grove Tower or do we put money into other facilities?” Norton said. “People who work in central office are very critical to district and their safety is a big concern.”

Board Member Rod Frey said, “The problem we have is we have no land to build on or expand to. It’s our responsibility to provide a safe place for our people to work.”

During the citizen’s forum, Marc Wiggins of Paris said he objects to any money being spent on the Grove building, especially since he had heard that renovations would cost $1M and that any renovations may include an elevator. “If you have $1M to spend on the Grove building, then you have $1M to spend on a new building that would be more substantial than the Promise Land building.”

Upon request of Norton, the board approved proceeding with planning for a High School Fishing Team.

Brent Greer noted that Henry County this weekend is hosting the largest fishing collegiate tournament. Paris Mayor Carlton Gerrell noted that tournaments for high school students have been hosted here, but that the local district does not have a team. Board Member Rod Frey said fishing has become a good way for students to earn college scholarships.
The board also approved a resolution opposing school vouchers.

In other business:
--The board heard presentations from High School teachers and students, including a band quartet made up of Nick Hawkins, Darla White, Luke Weatherly, and Brendan Edwards. All four were selected for the All-West Honor Band. 
Guidance counselors presented information on the school’s rankings in the Advise TN program, planned AP classes, and progress in the dual enrollment program. High School Principal Michele Webb said, “This is a very busy campus.”
--Heard a report from Teacher David Huber and students on a SCOPE conference.
--Approved a request from Lakewood Speech Team Coach David Weatherly to attend a meet in Birmingham, Ala., to compete against hundreds of national and international students. 
--Heard a report from Lakewood Principal Amy Veazey on the Teacher Leader Network Framework.