Editor's note: This story was updated to reflect the city's expenses for the property.
A split Rutherford County School Board on Monday postponed action on moving forward on possibly buying the Blackman Park property after two members expressed concern over public notification provided for the proposal.
The board may now vote on the purchase on Jan. 30, with discussion also taking place during a work session meeting Jan. 29.
The agenda for the special-called for a vote to buy land on Tennessee State Route 96 (Franklin Pike) as well as votes to rezone boundaries between Oakland and Siegel Middle schools, and between Walter Hill and Wilson Elementary schools.
The Board of Education held a special-called meeting Thursday, Dec. 19 to approve a motion to begin the process of vetting the site. The land is on Highway 96/Franklin Pike just over a mile from Veterans Parkway. It is owned by the City of Murfreesboro; the City Council has spoken in the past of using the site to build the long-promised Blackman Park for that community.
However, the caption on the meeting section of the RCS website for Monday’s meeting said, “Special Called Board Meeting - Proposed Partial Rezoning of Students from Siegel Middle School to Oakland Middle School AND Proposed Rezoning of Students from Wilson Elementary School to Walter Hill Elementary School”.
The caption did not mention the vote on the land acquisition, as board members Tammy Sharp and Lisa Moore pointed out.
Sharp introduced a motion to postpone the vote to give the public time to learn about the motion. She said that was especially important as the Central Office had experienced a partial power failure at the start of the meeting and it could not livestream the meeting on YouTube nor make a video archive for people to watch later. Assistant Superintendent for Engineering & Construction Trey Lee said the power failure was due to a blown transformer in the area.
Board members’ 4-3 votes on the motion to postpone were: Terry Hodge, no; Jeff Jordan, a “reluctant” yes, as he put it; Moore, yes; Coy Young, no; Tiffany Johnson, a “reluctant” yes, as she said; Sharp, yes; Chairman Jim Estes, no.
Just prior to the start of the meeting, Moore circulated a list of questions to board members and RCS staff. She said the list contained questions, some of which she said she believed had not been answered since the Dec. 19 meeting.
The questions included, “Why was this meeting pulled into a special called meeting that was supposed to be about rezoning of schools, and not as part of the next regularly scheduled meeting where there would be unrushed opportunity to address the concerns in a work session, as well as allow the public the opportunity for comment?”
Moore’s questions also said, “We were told in previous meeting that the City bought this land for $25,000 per acre when indeed the quit claim deed of sale for this land indicates it was purchased by The City of Murfreesboro on 1/31/17 for $2,905,000 which be approximately $18,261 per acre. So we are going to make a motion to offer them essentially more than $10,000/acre more just 2 years later at a $2,000,000 profit for the city.”
Additional questions dealt with whether there was an appraisal, the condition of the soil and so forth.
The Murfreesboro Post later asked the city about the land. Mike Browning, public information director, said the city paid $3,863,899 for two tracts from two sellers. For 154 acres, the price would be about $25,090 per acre.
Additional expenses totaling $123,065.53 were: $2,900 for environmental assessment; $11,185 boundary survey; $8,472.50 topographic survey; $9,500 preliminary wetlands assessment; $7,500 jurisdictional ruling titled “Waters of the United States” for wetlands; $16,177.85 for preliminary geotechnical testing; and $67,330.18 for conceptual design/layout.
The city received an unsolicited offer to sell but did not work up a formal agreement, Browning said. The city approved but did not start an economic market analysis to review commercial potential fronting Highway 96.
Adding the purchase price for the two tracts to the testing total would yield a cost to the city of about $3,986,964.53, or $25,889 per acre.
In addition to posing her questions during the school board meeting, Moore asked board attorney Jeff Reed that in drawing up a purchase contract to ensure the board has the right to pull out if any of the site prep studies are not to their satisfaction.
The site in question encompasses about 154 acres, and officials have estimated about 30 of those acres are wetlands, based on engineers’ field observation studies, Lee said. The city has made all of its site studies available to RCS, and Lee said he has sent those reports to RCS’ engineering firms. Right now, Lee said he plans to build a middle and a high school on the site, and if any of the 30 acres are deemed usable, he can study whether any other additional use might work.
Browning said city records show 29 acres of potential wetlands/ponds and one potential stream.
Lee said at a previous meeting that the Tennessee Department of Transportation plans to widen Highway 96, but to start from the Triune side.
Lee said that he has spoken to the Murfreesboro Water Resources Department and the schools would have a private standalone sewer system with its own pump station somewhere toward Veterans Parkway. He said the city would charge RCS for their actual costs on the tests, but they have not told him what those costs are yet. Lee said he expects to receive an appraisal on the site at the end of January.
RCS would have at least 90 days from signing the contract to do due diligence on site suitability, and possibly more time based on the wetlands, Lee said. There has been no agreement with the city at all, he said; discussion has been limited to are both parties interested in a transaction.
Sharp said she was fine with that time frame, but felt the board was not being fair to citizens on the notification.
“They’re the ones who are going to have to pay for it,” she said.