During public comment at the County Commission’s monthly meeting, two men criticized the proposed site for the new school and argued in favor of a site 14 miles closer to Johnson City, which they said should be seen as competition for students and home buyers.
Former Commissioner Dwight King and Bluff City resident Herschel Glover said the new middle school should be built off Highway 11-E near Pardner’s restaurant.
They said the school system’s plan — which the commission has agreed to fund — calls for the new middle school to be built at the end of Harrington Hollow and Weaver Pike on about 70 acres of land that will cost $5.1 million.
Glover presented commissioners with what he said is an offer from landowner Chad Baker to sell the county the 100-acre site near Pardner’s for $2.17 million — and that price would include Baker grading the site and making it ready for construction.
King said he’s talked to a developer and a builder who are ready to create a new subdivision in Piney Flats — a project on which he himself hopes to work — with homes starting at around $300,000. In all, the subdivision would be about a $30 million development, King said. But the wife of one of the men sells real estate, King said, and she said selling homes in Piney Flats to families with young children is hard because Sullivan County’s schools in the area just can’t compete with nearby Johnson City. King said the Weaver Pike site for the new school is too far away from Piney Flats, where growth is happening.
“We’ve got growth in Piney Flats that’s busting at the seams,” Glover said.
Sullivan County Commissioner Sherry Grubb, whose 5th District includes Hickory Tree, Bluff City and Piney Flats, said King and Glover’s proposal didn’t belong before the commission.
“We have voted on the funding for the plan that was presented to us by the Board of Education,” Grubb said. “That was our role. And we have done that. Since that time, basically in the last two months, we’ve had this giant push for the moving of the middle school location.”
Grubb said her only “dog in the hunt” was that the new middle school’s proposed location is centrally located to serve all the students — and despite rumors to the contrary she is not related to the owners of the Weaver Pike site. Later, in response to a question from the Times-News, Grubb clarified she also isn’t related to property owners at the proposed site of a new high school near Airport Parkway off Interstate 81.
Grubb said King and Glover asking the commission to consider a change in site for the middle school was essentially a bypass of the Board of Education — which looked at and studied multiple properties before recommending the chosen sites for the new high school and new middle school.
Grubb questioned the appropriateness, too, of Glover bringing a price quote from a property owner who wants to sell his land to the county, while also quoting site prep work to be performed by the same person.
The commission needs to get information from the Board of Education, not “outside interest groups,” Grubb said.
Commissioner Randy Morrell, whose 1st District includes the Holston Valley area, said he wanted to echo the sentiments of Grubb’s comments.