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Campbell opposes school system trading Midland Center for Highway Patrol building

August 29th, 2012 3:19 am by Matthew Lane

KINGSPORT — The old Highway Patrol building on Fort Henry Drive is probably not a cost-effective solution to the future space needs of the Kingsport school system, according to City Manager John Campbell.

Earlier this month during a three-hour work session, the Kingsport Board of Education discussed, among other things, the limited space available around the Dobyns-Bennett High School campus, with BOE member Betsy Cooper tossing out the idea of the school system trading the Midland Center for the Highway Patrol building.

The school system is considering renovating the Midland Center for its cosmetology and family consumer sciences programs at a cost of $287,500 to $300,000, but BOE members are concerned about students crossing Fort Henry Drive every day to attend classes. With the Highway Patrol building, they would not.

"My first reaction was I'm sure (the BOE) is not aware of what's in the building and how much work would have to be done to get it ready," Campbell said. "I feel like the suggestion came out, and they really don't know what the costs might me. I think (the costs) may be more than they expect."

Campbell said he is open to exploring the idea with Director of Schools Lyle Ailshie.

"But it's going to be hard to believe that would be a cost-effective solution to their problems," Campbell said.

The Midland Center reverted back to the city of Kingsport about six years ago after Sullivan County moved the health department out of the building and to a new location on Sullivan Street.

In 2008 the school system spent approximately $220,000 renovating the building for office use, and at one point it housed several departments including technology, student services, coordinated school health and the school nursing supervisor.

However, the building has remained virtually empty since March, when its staff was relocated to the new central office building in downtown Kingsport.

As for the old Highway Patrol building, it has been home to the city's engineering division since 2006. In 2009, a South Carolina developer proposed buying the building and two acres of land at that corner for $1.7 million to build a CVS drugstore -- an offer presented to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen by Campbell.

At that time, Kingsport City Schools sent a letter to the city saying the school system had no immediate or direct plans for the use of the Highway Patrol building property.

Ultimately, the BMA chose not to sell the property. And two times before that the city chose not to sell the Highway Patrol building -- not to the American Legion for its new headquarters nor to Kingsport developer Stewart Taylor, who also wanted to build a drugstore on the site.

Soon after Campbell came on board with the city, he expressed a desire to move the engineering division out of the Highway Patrol building and back downtown, ideally to the old Tri-City Linen building on Shelby Street.

Kingsport purchased the Tri-City Linen building in 2007 for $782,225 with the intent of using it either in conjunction with the Academic Village or as a future home for the engineering department. Although the city sold a portion of the building to Allyn Hood for $46,000 in 2008, the bulk of the building has remained empty for the past five years, with the city planning to one day renovate the building.

Public Works Director Ryan McReynolds said work is under way to renovate the Tri-City Linen building. The work is estimated to cost $450,000 and is being done in three phases, with the facade being first, then the roof and HVAC system, and finally the interior of the building.

"We began work about a year and half ago and found a structural issue with the facade. The beam that held the lintel was rotten," McReynolds said. "We began finishing the facade about three to four months ago and took a break until the design was done on the beam that held the lintel."

McReynolds said the city hopes to have the building finished by this time next year.

Campbell said he has not given any thought about what would go in the Highway Patrol building once the engineering division moves out.

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