Marion County TN School Board approves layout of new JMS building

Jasper, Tenn. – The process continues toward breaking ground on a new Jasper Middle School as the Marion County, TN Board of Education completes another step in the process. Discussion continued about when the other aspects of the building project were going to be started, but more so when they are going to be completed. There was brief discussion on the recent announcement of an end to the famed Marion County High School vs. South Pittsburg High School football game, as well.

Project architect Jason Morris explains to the board the layout of the proposed new Jasper Middle School.

The Board moved through the more rudimentary parts of its agenda, including the consent agenda which consisted of, among other things, the approval of the ZeroEyes Weapons Detection Services for South Pittsburg High School, four-day work weeks for the summer employees of the district, and the approval of South Pittsburg’s new football coach to participate in spring and summer practice in anticipation of his formal contract taking effect July 1.

The Board immediately transitioned into hearing from the most recent building project’s architect, Jason Morris, regarding the function and look of the proposed new Jasper Middle School. Morris said, “In the past, there have been times where boards have not had the chance to vote on a floor plan until right up before it goes out to bid. So, with the way everything has been going, I just want to make sure that we’re all on the same page before we move into the next phase.” Morris provided handouts for the board members, as well as a larger display of the proposed floor plan. Originally, the district had hoped to use the existing blueprints from Whitwell Middle School with some “slight modifications,” but Morris conceded that the building codes had changed so new drawings would be necessary. Morris explored several aspects of the proposed floor plan, which included an administration suite immediately to the left of the main entrance, two main corridors with a central intersection to make for easier observation as well a third corridor essentially reserved for the dining area and auditorium and the gym, six 5th grade classrooms, six 6th grade classrooms, five 7th grade classrooms, five 8th grade classrooms, as well as supporting academic areas such as science rooms, an art room, and media center, among others. Morris indicated that the current academic layout was designed for 600 students with the capacity to add four more classrooms if need be. The current enrollment was proclaimed to be 541. The common areas such as the dining room, gymnasium, and auditorium were designed at a 750 capacity to allow for potential growth.

Jason Morris with KBJM discusses the front elevation options for the new middle school.

Morris then pivoted to potential elevation choices for the Board. Morris presented nearly a dozen options for the front facade of the building that would be compatible with the presented floor plan. Morris emphasized that the timeline on approving the front facade would be a decision that should come in the next four weeks from the Board. Morris indicated that on the tail end of the COVID-19 supply-chain issues that nailing down the cost to a hard number was difficult, but his firm had some projects going out for bid in the next few weeks that would help solidify costs. He felt that “$220 to $225” per square foot was still a “safe” figure. Morris did caution that if the Board elected to adopt a storm shelter standard, or a safe room, for part of the school (a reinforced building standard aimed to better withstand tornadoes) that could elevate the cost of the portion of the school by “about thirty percent.” Morris said the proposed flooring in the high traffic areas would be a wax free solution, while the classrooms would still mostly be tile that required waxing. Morris told the Board that from the final decisions being made and the topographcial study being completed, he anticipated breaking ground in four months from the completion of both of those.

Concern was raised about the local high school football programs’ lack of commitment to each other with the recent announcement that the infamous South Pittsburg and Marion County High School rivalry game being brought to an end. Additionally, Marion County High School, according to board member Bo Nunley, had also “backed out of the Jamboree” allegedly because it was being played at Whitwell. Nunley contended that these opportunities were “big money for these programs” and he felt like there needed to be pressure, whether implicit or explicit, from the Board and the Director of Schools to honor those local schools’ rivalries. Director Dr. Mark Griffith acknowledged he had never “gotten involved with” the individual schools’ schedule but that he would mention it since it came up in the meeting. Chairman Ryan Phillips had a very different take on the matter. Phillips said the Board approves the hiring of the coaches or it’s a decision of the school itself and the melodrama of the scheduling was not the purview of the Board. Those were decisions made under the coaching staffs. Phillips, seemingly stoked by the conversation of extracurricular activities, gave an impassioned commentary that building a multimillion dollar school wasn’t going to do any good if the families didn’t do a better job of getting students to school. “The kids that are always there are the good kids,” Phillips said but indicated that there was a responsibility to all students in the district and that required family buy in to help get kids to school.

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