Sullivan committee votes to seek buyers for two former elementary schools

J. H. Osborne • Jun 28, 2013 at 1:36 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Commission’s Building Committee voted Thursday to seek buyers for two former county elementary schools — one near Bristol, which has been heavily vandalized; and another near Kingsport, which a new organization has voiced interest in using for a religious-based “orphanage” for troubled, at-risk and/or homeless youths.

The committee directed County Purchasing Agent Kris Davis to advertise the two properties — Valley Pike Elementary School and Cedar Grove Elementary School — for sale through a sealed-bid process, with a minimum bid of $50,000 for either, while specifying each property has deed restrictions that could limit use, and final approval of any sale requires acceptance by the full County Commission.

Administrator of County Buildings Claude Smith said the Valley Pike property has been trashed by vandalism that could conservatively be estimated at more than $121,000 in damages.

“It is unreal,” Smith said of the damages, which he has previously described to the committee.

County Mayor Steve Godsey said the damages to the building are “heart-wrenching” to see, especially knowing that it was inflicted by juveniles.

County Commissioner Dwight King said 10 minors have been identified as the perpetrators.

Earlier this month, Smith told the committee he was hopeful the county would receive an insurance settlement for the damages. On Thursday, however, Smith said he had just been told the county’s insurance policy does not provide coverage for vandalism of a vacant building. The county’s insurance agent is checking to see if there is some coverage if the building were classified as being used for storage, he said.

King suggested the parents of the 10 minors should be held financially responsible for the damages.

“If the insurance company won’t go after them, why don’t we go after them?” King said.

But Smith said getting a legal judgment and actually getting any money from it are two different things.

“A judgment isn’t worth the paper it’s written on,” Smith said.

Godsey said the parents should be asked to agree to let the county put the 10 minors into forced labor over the next four summers to work off the damages.

“It would be more advantageous to us to force them to work it out,” Godsey said. “We need to teach those kids a lesson.”

Teaching kids lessons is exactly what organizers of an “upstart program” want to do at the former Cedar Grove Elementary School.

Pastor Roy Lane of Freedom Fellowship Baptist Church spoke to the committee on behalf of “Save The World — One Child At A Time,” a privately funded, nonprofit organization “dedicated to transforming the lives of these children by striving to offer opportunities that would enable them to become successfully empowered contributing leaders of society.”

The description is from a letter sent to Godsey earlier this month, in which the group said it is interested in either buying, leasing or receiving as a donation the Cedar Grove Elementary property.

“We want to get kids off the street and give them hope,” said Mark Sloan, another representative of the new organization. “We’ve got the resources to help these kids. We just need a place to do it.”

Sloan indicated the group would be willing to pay $50,000 for the property.

Lane said Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips has been working with the group to possibly secure the old National Guard Armory property near Allandale for the program’s use. Sloan said ultimately the group could serve 200 or 300 children with the religious-based program, starting out with 30 at Cedar Grove.

Lane said the group aims to break the welfare cycle and “get them to work.” He said the group had great success with the program, serving children in St. Mary’s, Jamaica.

Cedar Grove Missionary Baptist Church also has expressed interest in the Cedar Grove Elementary property.

The committee said they all are welcome to participate in the bidding process.

Smith said the sooner the county finds a buyer for Cedar Grove Elementary, the better — because last week a rainstorm probably prevented the building from burning to the ground, after someone set fire to cardboard that had been dumped near the building atop abandoned mattresses also dumped there.

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