Old Lebanon High School possible site for new middle school

(Photo: WKRN)

Talk of a new middle school in Wilson County is creating a lot of concern among teachers and parents in rural parts of the county.

The need for a new middle school has been an ongoing discussion among county school leaders in an effort to ease overcrowding within the district.

According to Schools Director Mike Davis, there are three possibilities for middle school-aged students including keep the current school set up of K-8 schools, move grades sixth through eighth to the former Lebanon High School, or build a new school.

While no decision has been made, use of the old high school is gaining the most momentum.

On Tuesday, approximately 50 parents and teachers of Tuckers Crossroads School in Lebanon gathered to learn more about the potential impact to students.

Currently, Tuckers Crossroads School serves kindergarten through eighth grade with an estimated 450 students.

“If the middle school is moved out of here, we would only have 285 students projected for next year, K-5,” said Principal Susie Breedwell.

Moving nearly half the student population would help the school get rid of three portable classrooms, but parents are leery about sending their children to the old high school, off Gulf Avenue in Lebanon.

“I'm just concerned about the safety and the welfare of my children going to the school that we decided to move out of a year ago,” said Mike Justice, county commissioner and school parent.

The former high school was considered unfit for high schoolers due to the dilapidated condition of many buildings on campus and signs of mold, insects and rodents.

Students moved into the new Lebanon High School on Hartman Drive this fall.

In a phone conversation, Director Davis told Nashville's News 2 mold and pests, found primarily in the 1950-built section, had been eradicated from the high school campus buildings.

He also said a new middle school would be contained to the newer portions of the school, built between 1970 and 1995. However, the older cafeteria, library, auditorium and gym would be part of the middle school deal. Many of those areas have been renovated in recent years.

Justice is still concerned.

“I'm just worried with that existing structure, still standing around the used portion, is still going to be a problem,” he said. “If they're going to use that building, we just want 'em to upgrade it and do what they should do before we move into it.”

The building wasn't the only cause for concern at Tuesday's meeting. Parents and teachers wanted to know how the board plans to pay for the changes.

Director Davis could not put a price on repairs or staffing, but was confident the cost would be significantly less than the estimated $12 million to demolish and/or renovate the older structures on the former high school campus or the estimated $15 to $20 million for a newly built school, not including land costs.

Many at Tuesday's meeting were aware of the county's growing needs, but were not confident use of the old high school was the best option.

“You want to make sure you have the right teacher-pupil ratio. You also want to keep up with the curriculum changes and so forth. I get that,” said parent Eric Wilcox, “but at the same time, you don't fix something that's not broken.”

Director Davis said the old high school would allow students “a more rigorous and robust curriculum,” in light of space and teacher certification.

The old high school has science labs and rooms for drama and band not currently available at many K-8 schools.

Teacher certification is also a point of contention for Director Davis. Many rural schools in the county serve kindergarten through eighth grade students. Currently, teachers are certified in grades K-6, and need additional training, or endorsements, for the additional grade levels.

A middle school with grades six through eight would employ teachers certified to teach the higher grades.

However, Principal Breedwell said Tuckers Crossroads School teachers are highly qualified. Many teachers seek the additional training on their own and prefer the K-8 set up.

“They have to stay younger maybe a little longer, but that's not a bad thing. You know, my kids aren't exposed to things that big middle schools are,” said teacher and parent Anna Raines.

A work session regarding the potential changes is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday at the old Lebanon High School.  Teachers and parents will be able to tour the building at that time.

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