SUMNER COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — After hours of public comment and debate, the Sumner County Commission voted Monday night to approve the director of schools’ request to draw $15.8 million from the district’s reserves fund to replace bleachers at four high schools and upgrade other athletic facilities.
However, some worry the district won’t be able to execute the next phases of the project without a tax increase.
Director of Schools, Dr. Scott Langford, laid out his request to use $15.8 million from the district’s reserves to replace four sets of bleachers after the bleachers at Beech High School collapsed in August. Hendersonville, Portland, and White House High Schools’ bleachers were also subsequently condemned.
However, some commissioners were reluctant to approve the request, partly because Langford also planned to use a portion of the $15.8 million to pay for other upgrades, including new tracks, athletic training rooms, and the beginning stages for turf fields and tennis courts.
Langford said teachers, coaches, maintenance staff, and booster clubs identified these improvements as immediate needs.
On Monday, Oct. 23, the Sumner County Commission’s budget committee approved $8.8 million to be drawn from the school district’s reserves, which would have been enough to replace only the four sets of bleachers that were condemned, as well as the restrooms.
That proposal was rejected by the school board whose members claimed the commission did not have the authority to change the monetary amount in their request. The school board later voted to re-request the $15.8 million.
Ultimately, on Monday, Oct. 30, the Sumner County Commission voted 19-0 to approve Langford’s original request to draw the $15.8 million, with some commissioners not voting.
“I think a lot of information was put forth and a lot of understanding was gained by the public on how we have to do things to process this, and I think the citizens are happy it got pushed through. Now, it’s up to the director to get it done,” Sumner County Commissioner Tim Jones said.
The $15.8 million will cover the costs for phase one of the project.
Phase two includes plans to build a new basketball complex with a full-sized gymnasium, put down turf fields, complete tennis courts, and more. Langford previously said he wants all the high schools’ athletic facilities to eventually be at the same level as Liberty Creek High School’s facilities, which Jones told News 2 are so elaborate, some compare the school to a small, private university.
“It’s a very nice school. A lot of people argue there are lots of schools in our area like that,” Jones said. “But if you bring all the schools up to that standard, that’s an enormous amount of money. There’s a phase two and a phase three to this whole dream, and that’s what will trigger the tax increase.”
Jones worries the county won’t be able to fund the next phases of the athletic facilities improvement project without a tax increase. He hopes after phase one is complete, the county can pause and reevaluate what improvements are needed for all schools.
“When you put 10 shovels in the ground, it’s hard to stop something like that, and that is essentially what we started with this approach,” Jones said.
In addition to approving the request to draw $15.8 million from the district’s reserves, the Sumner County Commission passed a resolution which allows residents to voluntarily pay more taxes to go to the schools after some complained the schools needed more money.
“[The schools] get 75% of our tax dollars; that’s a lot of money already, but for those who are passionate about the schools needing more money, we’ve set this up to where those people can actually give more of their money if they want to give money to the schools,” Jones said.
Langford said he plans to replace the four bleacher sets before the next football season.