By Josh Arntz
The Dickson Herald

Published April 4, 2014

Funding for the construction of a Highway 96 turning lane into the Burns ballpark complex remains in limbo, despite the county mayor proposing $500,000 toward the effort in his “Cooperation Project.”

County Mayor Bob Rial presented the Dickson County School Board last week with his “Cooperation Project,” recommending the county and schools system partner for $8 million in school security upgrades and facility maintenance.

Rial also allotted $500,000 for a Highway 96 turning lane into the new Burns park, neighboring the likely site of a future Burns middle school. He reported a $17.5-million Burns middle school could be ready for students by 2020.

The community could “celebrate” the new middle school by attending the first football game, Rial said.

Burns Mayor Landon Mathis has asked the school board to contribute $400,000 toward the turning lane, which could benefit the park and future school. The school board has expressed interest in using the park’s athletic facilities for the middle school, including a football field documented in the park’s master plan.

Mathis has told the school board the town doesn’t need the football field and wouldn’t build it, unless they helped pay for the required turning lane.

Some school board members however, are hesitant to spend $400,000 on a turn lane when the county and schools system isn’t “committed” to the proposed middle school site.

School board member Josh Lewis previously cited traffic issues at existing schools where that money could be directed. Lewis “likes” Rial’s plan, but said funding the turn lane is “all pending on the Burns middle school.”

“There’s not a school in Burns yet,” Lewis noted. “That’s kind of where I’m still at.”

Lewis reported more work sessions are needed to hammer out details of the school’s construction and funding.

“If the county is going to pay for (the turn lane), then that’s different than the school board paying for it,” Lewis said.

School board member Rick Chandler, who represents Burns, called Rial’s project an “excellent plan,” but needed a commitment to the middle school location before addressing the park turn lane.

“My position always has been, until there’s a commitment from schools I couldn’t be for that,” Chandler said.

Taxpayer dollars would construct the turn lane, Chandler noted, and their “take” should be considered.

“It’d be ridiculous to spend that money and the school not go there,” he added.

Schools Director Dr. Danny Weeks said they need to “refine” and “solidify” the vision for the Burns middle school, which the school board has worked on the last 2-3 meetings.

“If that’s the vision and that’s the place, then we need to decide what the footprint of the building looks like and how that incorporates (sports facilities, turning lane, etc.),” Weeks continued.

Weeks observed Highway 96 near the Burns park entrance is on a slight hill with a gentle curve, which might not be the “right place” for a school turning lane.

“If the (middle school) site is east of Stuart-Burns Elementary School, I don’t know if we’d be better off putting (the turn lane) there, where it’s much more straight and flat,” he said.

“A lot will be decided” at the next school board meeting, Weeks reported. The school board is slated to go over the architectural services selection process, he noted, with discussion of the middle school construction and estimated prices, which would include athletic facilities.

“Obviously we don’t need two sets (of fields), but I’m not sure if we’re not better off building our own fields,” Weeks said.

The school board prioritized four phases of facility upgrades, maintenance and construction. The Burns middle school is in the fourth phase.

“I think the school board thought it would help us all if we have one architectural firm carry us through all four phases,” Weeks said.

Schools officials recently solicited a Request for Information for architectural services. Weeks hoped to have information from interested parties ready by an April 14 meeting.

The county commission must approve Rial’s “Cooperation Project,” before the school board could take action on it.