The opening of the new Liberty Creek school campus planned for the fall of 2021 has been delayed amid a fight for sewer easements in the area, Director of Schools Del Phillips told school board members at a recent meeting.
The Sumner County Commission purchased 265 acres on Upper Station Camp Creek Road for a school complex and related sports fields in February of 2015.
An elementary school and a high school that will include a wing for middle school students were expected to be completed in time for the 2021-22 school year. A separate middle school will be built at a later date.
In November, after the project was funded by a $103 million bond item, Phillips projected the project would go out for bids in May with construction to begin this month.
During the June 18 Board of Education meeting, Phillips said the project was delayed and briefed members on a Sumner County Commission meeting he attended the night before. (Also see story page A2).
“I just want you guys to understand that there’s not going to be an opening of (the) school for 2021,” said Phillips. “There’s no way we’ll be able to do that. A lot has to do with I can’t put a bid for a $100 million campus without the sewer being in the works. That needs to be part of the bid process for the general contractor.”
Phillips told school board members that the school system has been working for about 18 months with engineers on a sewer plan for the complex. In October a company that purchases easements for the White House Utility District contacted 15 landowners about purchasing easements along the creek, he said.
Phillips said the landowners were opposed to a greenway and easement access, but that county leaders removed the greenway language recently from the proposal.
“We thought that would be a good solution. They had said if that occurred, they would sign the easements,” he said. “Well guess what, that occurred and they still didn’t want the easements.
“So, at the end of the day they, along with about 100 really, really, really mad folks came over to the county and they cursed everybody in sight, me, everybody else, about trying to provide toilets, working toilets to the new school which I thought would be kind of a low standard. Nevertheless, we were probably there six hours on just that.”
Additionally, much of the previous night’s discussion on sewer design was a moot point, according to Phillips, because the school system and the county had the authority to move forward with condemning the landowners’ property.
“We don’t ask them to approve the sewers,” he added. “We just don’t do that. We have engineers do design, the money gets appropriated…”
“There’s just folks that want to cause chaos. We’re going to have to figure out what the next step is. And we’re hopeful the next week or so we will get it back on track.”
Some of the properties would have to be condemned, the director added.
“We want to make certain that the county realizes that we’re not going to make changes to the sewer as to the design. And they’re still going to have to be a partner in that condemnation,” he said.
Citizen says remarks ‘slanderous’
Landowner Deborah Holmes, who attended the June 17 County Commission meeting, said she was appalled by the way Phillips characterized landowners. Holmes said she saw a video of Phillips addressing school board members shared on social media.
Holmes said she emailed every school board member informing them of several inaccuracies in Phillips’ statements.
“Dr. Phillips told you several things in last week’s meeting that are not true,” she said.
Holmes said Phillips had no basis for telling White House Utility District representatives that homeowners wouldn’t be satisfied with any design or easement purchase.
“I have never been contacted by Dr. Phillips nor has he ever been part of any discussion with me or my husband as to what we would or would not be satisfied with or what our concerns are,” she said. “We are deeply concerned by his approach to denigrate us or perhaps even slander us with this type of characterization to the utility district that has the power to forcefully take our property!”
Holmes also took issue with Phillips’ statement that those in attendance “cursed everybody in sight.”
“This is such a gross mischaracterization. It is patently untrue and most assuredly slanderous,” Holmes wrote. “‘They’ refers to me, my husband and the other homeowners. I certainly did not do this and to my knowledge not one of us ever cursed anyone and certainly not ‘everyone in sight.’”
Holmes also said that while Phillips told board members that the county was going to release the easement on the greenway so it would be just for the sewer, land owners had been told repeatedly by the company Dr. Phillips referenced that the access road/greenway was required by state law.
“Can you see why we were losing trust and raising more questions?” she asked.
“The last thing we want in our life is chaos,” Holmes added. “He again told you something that with regard to me and my husband is untrue.”
In an interview on Tuesday, Holmes said she was also troubled that Phillips would tell school board members not to come to a meeting where their constituents are raising concerns.
“If they wanted to be informed, I would think they would want to come,” she said.
In an effort to gather more information about the timeline of the new school campus, the Hendersonville Standard submitted the following questions to Phillips via email. Here are his responses:
Can you explain why the project has been delayed, and by how much it has been delayed? What is the new estimated completion date? We had hoped to complete all the building designs, campus master plan, and infrastructure bid documents by June, but that wasn’t possible. A new completion date hasn’t been set. I will update the board on a new completion date closer to the project bid date.
In November, you said the school system hoped to put the project out for bids in May or June. What has happened to change this? Please see answer from previous question.
What work has been done at the new school campus to date? No construction work has been performed on the new school campus, but site engineering has occurred and we are in the process of planning for the new school campus and infrastructure.
Also on Tuesday, you said that the school system planned to let the county know that it didn't plan to make any changes to the sewer's design. Have you spoken to Anthony Holt about this? Mr. Holt and I have had on-going conversations about the school project since its funding.
What is the latest development on this from your office? We’re continuing to work on building designs, campus master plan, and infrastructure bid documents.