HomeNewsOPINION: We can learn lessons about planning from Pope School situation

OPINION: We can learn lessons about planning from Pope School situation

The current situation regarding Pope School’s obstacles in moving forward in planning, design and ultimate construction should serve as a lesson for current and future elected officials – and in a way those of us who don’t serve the public in our daily lives.

Pope School was approved in March of last year by the Madison County Commission – the final approval hurdle needed to approve the school’s building. Henson Construction was selected to build the school.

The property where it is to be built was bought more than three years ago in the fall of 2019.

The budget for the school was set last spring at $48 million with $5.5 million of that planned for furnishing the building once it’s built and $500,000 for “offsite improvements,” which was meant to pay for widening Ashport Road in front of the school where it’s set to be built just east of the intersection of Ashport and Pleasant Plains Road.

But the newest list of problems with the project is listed in a story in this edition. The Board of Zoning Appeals and City of Jackson have had a traffic study done with the recommendations coming from it being a roundabout at Pleasant Plains/Ashport because a 50-home development is going in across from Pleasant Plains, widening both Ashport and Old Humboldt at their intersection to put turn lanes on both roads and extending the turn lane on Old Humboldt at the Highway 45 Bypass.

All of that together will cost more than $500,000, and no one has volunteered to pay for it themselves.

There’s also the problem of when you widen a road, the municipality has to procure right of way on all property being affected by the widening – which is this case could be anywhere from 10-20 property owners depending on who all owns property on Ashport and Old Humboldt.

Apparently no one in the last 3.5 years thought about this possibility and even though former County Commissioner Tommy Gobbell and former Jackson-Madison County School Board member Doris Black both asked multiple times for traffic studies on the area, they never happened until the last few months.

Those who were paying attention in 2019 may remember the situation when the County Commission bought the property. Ray Washington was the interim JMCSS Superintendent, and he was simply trying to get through a year of service while the Board searched for a permanent Superintendent that would eventually be Marlon King.

The Board consisted of what my friend, Steve Beverly, referred to as the Power 5 – then-Board Chairman Kevin Alexander, James “Pete” Johnson, Black, Janice Hampton and Morris Merriweather.

Because there were suspicions of those five being influenced by a local property owner who was pushing them to have Pope built on property near where he owned rental homes (on the corner of Passmore Lane and the Bypass where Baptist Hospital is building a facility now), many who opposed the Power 5 pushed to buy the property on Ashport – which is where former Superintendent Eric Jones planned to build it.

JMCSS had an option on the land that it needed to either purchase the land then or the price would go up significantly and they’d stand to lose the large amount of money they’d already deposited for that option.

So the County Commission’s finance committee – Washington, the late Billy Spain, Commissioner Luther Mercer, former Mayor Jimmy Harris, Commission Chairman Gary Deaton and Commissioner Arthur Johnson – voted in committee to recommend to buy the land, and it was approved at that month’s Commission meeting.

Board members – Power 5 and some of the other four – expressed frustration with the Commission’s move as they felt it was big brother moving in and making decisions that should’ve been left up to them and they felt it was too hasty.

But every time Gobbell and Black asked for a traffic study, it was never ordered until recently. In some meetings, some Commissioners even rolled their eyes when the phrase “traffic study” was said. To be honest, I may have even made the phrase a square on my social media bingo boards.

But the traffic study wasn’t done three years ago and the situation now is what it is, and it’s up to the current group of elected officials to navigate the situation, which will take some work, prayer and Divine intervention if Pope is to open on schedule in August of 2025.

Two good things have come from the situation.

Jackson Mayor Scott Conger pledged to be a good partner in this process and offered to help when the City can.

And Board member Jason Compton discussed the need to learn from this experience as growth in the western part of the county in the next few years because of Blue Oval City/Georgia-Pacific/everything else going on could very possibly spur the need for more schools.

So if that winds up being the case, whoever is serving in public office then can look back at 2023 and say “Hey remember when they had all those problems because of actions that should’ve been taken in 2019 but didn’t?”

Remember the words of Jesus Christ in Luke 14:28-30 (English Standard Version): “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’”

The cost is more than the original count, but the count wasn’t as thorough as it should’ve been.

But hopefully the current group of school board members and county commissioners will learn from this moving forward.

Brandon Shields is the managing editor of The Jackson Post. Contact him at brandon@jacksonpost.news. Follow him on Twitter @JSEditorBrandon or Instagram @Editorbrandon.

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