Board addresses concerns over Burns school plan

Dickson County School Board Chairman Tim Potter responds to questions at an informational session on the plan for a new middle/high school in Burns.
Dickson County School Board Chairman Tim Potter responds to questions at an informational session on the plan for a new middle/high school in Burns.

Questions about how a new middle/high school in Burns would affect student zoning and concerns about the proposed location’s impact on traffic and neighbors dominated the discussion at the Dickson County School Board’s second informational session on its building program at Oakmont Elementary School Tuesday night. About 40 people, many of them educators, heard board Chairman Tim Potter and Director of Schools Dr. Danny Weeks outline the general plan for the new school proposed to open in August 2019 on Highway 96 in Burns. Potter said many of the details of answers to questions will have to be determined once the Dickson County Commission makes a decision on whether to fund the new school. He said he hopes to make a comprehensive building program presentation to the commission in January. Five of six school board members and two of 12 county commissioners were in attendance Tuesday. Weeks said the plan is to open the new school with about 150 students in each grade. With an average of around 100 fifth graders coming out of Stuart-Burns Elementary School each year, Weeks said another 50 students would be rezoned primarily from the Oakmont zone to attend the new school. Potter said whether those students attend Oakmont through grade five and then go to the new middle school or are rezoned to Stuart-Burns to be a part of that cluster still must be determined. Stuart-Burns is proposed to get additional classrooms as part of the building program. As in last week’s first meeting in Burns, several people who live near the proposed school site identified as the McCall property raised concerns over the impact the school could have on their properties, what noise issues there could be and how the school will affect traffic, especially on Eastside Road where the two primary entrances to the school are proposed. At Monday night’s work session, the board’s architects discussed constructing berms and using trees and other vegetation to create a natural buffer between the school and homes. While saying he understands the concerns of some of the area residents, Potter said the school board’s job is to do what it believes is in the best interest of education in Dickson County. For more than 10 years, the school board has discussed the need for a new middle school to reduce the student population at Dickson Middle School. Counting the sixth graders at Dickson Intermediate School, there are about 1,200 students in the DMS cluster while Charlotte Middle has around 400 and William James Middle is at 300. Potter said moving some DMS students to a Burns school would allow the sixth graders to return to the main campus and leave the current Dickson Intermediate building for other uses, most likely as an elementary school that could replace Dickson Elementary and/or The Discovery School. The resulting domino effect of the new Burns school could create savings in other areas of the budget to offset some of the anticipated revenue needs for the new school. Potter said he doesn’t know from where the money to operate the Burns school will come, but also believes there is not enough information right now to determine how much additional revenue will be required. While the original plan started with just a middle school, Potter said the board no longer believes a middle school is the “optimal thing to do.” By building a middle/high school, the system addresses population and zoning issues affecting Dickson County and Creek Wood high schools. If just a middle school is built, those Burns students likely will be zoned to Creek Wood and the county will be transporting students from the south end of the county to Charlotte. Weeks said there are “a lot of efficiencies” in building a middle/high school that would share core facilities. The preliminary design presented by architects Monday night does allow for the school to be scaled back to just a middle school should the county commission decline to fund a middle/high school. But Potter said the board’s commitment is to a middle/high school in the Burns area to open in 2019 with the project including renovations and expansions at Oakmont, Stuart-Burns and White Bluff elementary schools. Weeks has said the board could hold another informational session to continue presenting its plans to the public sometime after the first of the year. Potter said he plans to meet with Mayor Bob Rial to discuss scheduling a special meeting for the school board to present its plan to the county commission.

Emily Beard scores 32 in DCHS win over Summit

Emily Beard sparked the Dickson County Lady Cougars to a 62-50 win at Summit Tuesday night while the Cougars had no answer for the Spartans’ new dominating center in a 75-59 loss. Senior Beard had her best offensive night of the young season with a game-high 32 points, including 13 in the third quarter when the Lady Cougars took control. Dickson County jumped in front on a Ryann Roberts three-pointer in the second period and held the lead the rest of the way to its second District 11-AAA victory. Kailey Rosenbaum added 11 points, 8 rebounds and 2 steals. The Cougars had problems matching up with 6’9” Summit junior transfer Demontae Dixon, who finished with 23 points and an astounding 18 rebounds. Dickson County put together its most balanced offensive attack of the season with four players in double figures and used its speed and outside shooting to stay in the game. A Demontez Coleman jumper in the third period tied the game 43-43, but Summit went on an 11-0 run and Dickson County could never get any closer than 5 points the rest of the game. Freshman D.J. Stacey led the Cougars with 16 points while Coleman had 12 and Jacob Murphree and Darian Burns finished with 11 each. Dickson County returns home for a pair of non-district contests before heading into holiday tournaments. Beech visits Friday and the Harpeth games previously postponed have been reset for 2:30 pm Saturday. Creek Wood plays its fourth consecutive District 11-AA contests hosting Montgomery Central Thursday. The Red Hawks will play in a holiday tournament at Rossview next week while the Lady Red Hawks head to Dyersburg. The Cougars will be in action in Columbia.

JeQuan Lewis leads VCU comeback over Old Dominion

JeQuan Lewis (1) leads the VCU offense against Old Dominion under the watch of Will Wade.
JeQuan Lewis (1) leads the VCU offense against Old Dominion under the watch of Will Wade.

Former Cougar JeQuan Lewis scored 17 points to spark a second-half comeback in VCU’s 67-64 victory at Old Dominion Saturday. Lewis led the Rams with 20 points, including 12 in a 16-1 run that gave VCU the lead for good. The Rams trailed by 11 points with 7:37 left in the game when they scored 11 straight to tie the game 55-55. Lewis hit a three-pointer and capped the run with a four-point play to forge the game’s only tie. After the Monarchs retook the lead on a free throw, Lewis scored five straight points. The senior guard hit a layup to give VCU its first lead of the game and followed with a three-pointer to extend the margin to 60-56 and the Rams never trailed again. Lewis hit 6 of 11 from the floor, including 5 of 8 treys, and 3 of 4 free throws for his game-high 20 points. He added 2 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 assist. The Rams are 7-3 and Lewis leads the team with 14.9 points per game and 31.2 minutes per game, is shooting 45 for 99 from the floor and 30 for 63 on three-pointers, all team highs, is shooting a team-best 82.9 percent from the foul line and leads the team with 44 assists while his 15 steals are second on the team. VCU hosts Middle Tennessee State in Richmond Saturday.

Murder suspect charged with threatening TBI agent

Wallace Wade Brasel
Wallace Wade Brasel

A man awaiting trial on murder charges has been accused of threatening to harm an investigator on the case. Special agents from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation have charged 58-year-old Wallace Wade “Wally” Brasel with one count of retaliation for past action for a threat he allegedly made during a recorded phone conversation in the Cheatham County Jail. Brasel and his half-brother, 47-year-old Thomas Lee “Tommy” Wortham, are charged with first-degree murder and two counts of felony murder for the 1998 death of 32-year-old Eric Baxter in Dickson County. According to a statement released by the TBI Monday, Brasel had a phone conversation with a family member during which he made a threat of bodily harm against TBI Special Agent Joe Craig, who investigated Baxter’s murder. The TBI says District Attorney Ray Crouch Jr. of the 23rd Judicial District requested the agency open an investigation into the alleged threat Dec. 6. A TBI agent served the warrant on Brasel Monday in jail. Brasel was scheduled to stand trial on the murder charges Feb. 21, but it is being delayed so Wortham’s trial can begin that day. New evidence recently discovered in the investigation prompted Wortham’s Dec. 5 trial to be postponed and Judge David Wolfe said the only date available for what is expected to be at least a week-long trial is Feb. 21. Since the DA’s office chose to try Wortham first after their trials were separated in August, Wolfe bumped Brasel’s trial to hold Wortham’s on Feb. 21. Wortham and Brasel are scheduled to appear in Dickson County Circuit Court for a motions hearing Thursday and a new trial date for Brasel could be set at that time. Baxter was found shot to death in the Jones Creek Road home he shared with his mother, Joy Marsh, on Aug. 20, 1998. After a 17-investigation, Wortham was indicted for the murder in October 2015 and Brasel was indicted in April. A former detective with the Hickman County Sheriff’s Office, Wortham leased a convenience store from Baxter’s family owned company and had unsuccessfully sued the West Meade Corp. after it canceled an agreement to sell the market to Wortham when he missed a contract deadline. The indictments allege Wortham and Brasel planned to kill Marsh, too, but she was not home and discovered her son’s body when she returned from out of town that night. Investigators said Baxter was shot 6-8 times in the head, chest and hand. No murder weapon has been recovered. At a prior hearing, Wortham’s attorney said he expects there will be testimony from two men that while they were incarcerated together in the Hickman County Jail Brasel admitted shooting Baxter. Brasel remains in the Cheatham County Jail and Wortham in the Dickson County Jail on $350,000 bond each. Motions to be argued Thursday include another request to reduce their bonds.

Board committed to middle/high school in Burns

School board members say they remain committed to building a middle/high school in the Burns area and will pitch the proposal at a second informational session tonight. Board members held a session for the public last week at Stuart-Burns Elementary School and will hold another session at 6 pm tonight at Oakmont Elementary. At Monday night’s work session, board Chairman Tim Potter said the board will stick with its proposal for a new school for grades 6-12 on the McCall property on Highway 96 in Burns to open in fall 2019. Potter said those are the last votes taken by the board and there has been no change in that plan, despite residents who voiced opposition to the school being near their homes and county commissioners who have questioned the need for a third high school. Potter said the proposed school is in the best interest of education in Dickson County. He said the school system needs the new school to address the overcrowded situations at Dickson Middle School and Dickson County High School. Potter said the new school also will help address student zoning issues where if only a middle school is built in Burns, the board will then have to figure out a way to send students from the south end of the county to Creek Wood High School, where there is still room to grow. Potter also said it is inevitable that the county will need a third high school and it will be “a heck of a lot cheaper for the taxpayers” to build it now than in the future when construction costs are higher. Potter said the middle/high school combination fulfills the board’s obligation to plan for providing quality education for the future. The chairman also said comments that the operating cost of a middle/high school will result in a 44-cent property tax increase might not be accurate. Potter said he is “not willing to concede” that every dollar of operational costs will necessitate additional revenue. He said the county’s sales tax collections continue to grow at a healthy pace, which will result in more revenue. Additionally, the creation of a new middle/high school could enable the school system to close another school and free up some money. When the student population at Dickson Middle is reduced, the sixth-grade students currently at Dickson Intermediate School could return to DMS, making that building available to become a new middle or elementary school. There has been discussion about closing Dickson Elementary School and/or The Discovery School and using those buildings for other purposes, such as a new location for New Directions Academy, relocating the board of education central office or creating a magnet school. While C&I Design and Lyle-Cook-Martin Architects continue to work on the design of the middle/high school for Burns, the board heard from John Cheney of Cope Associates in Knoxville Monday night about working on renovations at three elementary schools that would be concurrent with the new school project. The board plans to upgrade the HVAC system and create a secure entrance at Oakmont, add classrooms and expand the cafeteria at White Bluff Elementary and add classrooms and a new drive to improve traffic flow at Stuart-Burns. In order to keep all the projects moving ahead, the board will consider hiring Cope Associates for those projects at its Thursday meeting. Potter said he still hopes the board can make a comprehensive building program presentation to the county commission early next year.