Macon County Board of Education Chairman Jim Breedlove began the discussion on the recent news the county entered into a contract to purchase 11 acres of property across from Franklin High School during Monday night’s board meeting in Highlands by stating that he, along with the rest of the board were happy to hear the news, however, they were completely in the dark.
“I very was pleasantly surprised when I found out at the last meeting that it appeared on the agenda that the commissioners were going to discuss that [purchase of Higdon Property],” said Breedlove. “Chairman Higdon had not called me and I was really caught off guard that they were going to discuss it, but essentially it was a very pleasant surprise.”
Chairman Breedlove asked his fellow board members if they had had any formal discussions with any of the county commissioners regarding the potential purchase of the property or the possible use of the property by the school system, to which other members of the board said they also were unaware of the commissioner’s intentions.
Diedre Breeden, the newest member on the Board of Education said that she was under the impression that the property had been part of the discussion between the two boards for a while, however, the board of education clarified that was not accurate.
Macon County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin said that although he had not been part of any formal discussion regarding the property, he is hopeful the county plans to move forward with the project and that the property will be designated as use by Macon County Schools, however at this point that remains to be seen.
“We hope that the county will give use of that property for consideration in the Franklin High School expansion project, but I don’t think that is confirmed,” said Dr. Baldwin. “I believe I understood Chairman Higdon’s comments to say that it was a potential use and it could be potentially used for the expansion of Franklin High School, but that there were also other considerations floating around for that property.”
Macon County Commissioner Gary Shields, who serves as a school board liaison for the commission as well as on the school system’s business advisory council said that it is important for the school system to get a plan in place for the property so they can be “first in line” when the county considers future use of the property, indicating that as of right now, despite the county being under contract to purchase the property, there is no guarantee it will be used for the Franklin High School expansion or for the school system at all.
Shields indicated that he was trying to push the school board to develop a proposal for educational use before other agencies/organizations set their sights on the Higdon Property.
“I want Macon County Schools to be first in line when it comes time to present a proposed use for that property,” Shields said. “We need to have a plan together.”
“I feel like we are getting ahead of ourselves here because we’re being asked to come up with a proposed use for a property that the county doesn’t own yet, and we have no assurance will be used for educational purposes,” Breedlove said.
Board of Education Attorney John Henning Jr. suggested the board of education draft a Memorandum of Understanding to be considered by the school system during the May 3 meeting regarding clarity on the intended use of the property. The school board would approve the MOU during the May 3 meeting and then the MOU would be given to commissioners for consideration during their May 9 board meeting. The MOU would suggest that the school system is willing to work with the county for development and use of the property in the event that the purchase is finalized. However, if the county has not declared their intent or idea for the property by May 9, they would not agree to the MOU.
According to Macon County Board of Commissioner Attorney Eric Ridenour, commissioners discussed the purchase of the property during a closed session in February. According to Commissioner Shields, he then got a phone call a few days later asking if he would agree to enter into a purchase contract for project prior to County Manager Derek Roland doing so on March 24. During the April 11 meeting of the board of commissioners, the board voted to ratify their decision to purchase the property, however, details of what or when a vote took place that needed to be ratified were not disclosed. A 60-day due diligence period started April 4 when the county paid $10,000 in non-refundable due diligence money and $100,000 in refundable earnest money. If the county agrees to follow through with the purchase after due diligence, there will be a 30-day closing period. The commissioners unanimously voted on April 11 to designate $1.35 million out of the county’s fund balance to purchase the property.