Sullivan BOE could already have site for new middle school

Rick Wagner • Updated Feb 19, 2016 at 6:28 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s school board has narrowed it search for a buyer’s agent for two new school sites down to two Tri-Cities real estate firms.

And the board also has a prospective site for one of those schools already identified, a 100-acre tract in the Piney Flats community owned by excavator Chad Baker that could be a new middle school for the Sullivan East High School zone. That mean the chosen buyer’s agent job might have one job instead of two. The other site being sought is at least 65 acres for a new high school in the area of Exit 63 of Interstate 81. The minimum size for the middle school is 35 acres.

The Board of Education in called session voted 6-0 with one abstaining to narrow the number of potential agents from the six that responded to a request for proposals down to two: Blue Ridge Properties of Kingsport and Interstate Commercial Real Estate of Bristol, Tenn. However, instead of then choosing a winner between the two, board in that same motion asked that the two real estate agencies amend their proposals.

The board is recommending a flat fee and wants a contract that excludes the Baker property if the board chooses that for its new 700-student middle school to replace the elementary portion of Mary Hughes School, a K-8 facilitiy, as well as Bluff City and Holston Valley middle schools. The new 1,700-student high school would house the areas currently served by Sullivan North and South high schools and part of Central High, with the rest of the Central students moved to Sullivan East High.

The board also is refusing to pay $150 per meeting for an agent to attend school board meetings, as proposed by Interstate, and would give the winner 60 days to identify suitable high school and/or high school and middle school sites. Blue Ridge proposed a sales commission of 3 percent if the seller refused to pay that commission, while Interstate proposed a fee of $50,000 or 5 percent, whichever was less. Warren Sanders of Blue Ridge said the county BOE thus might owe nothing for the finding of new site; However, Michael Hughes said the high school site likely won’t be one already listed with a broker and that means the BOE would have to pay the commission.

Under questioning by BOE member Jane Thomas, Baker said there would be enough room on his property for an elementary school there, too, and that he would be willing to sell the property already excavated for a school and sell only a portion of it. Taylor and member Todd Broughton said they were concerned about Mary Hughes being in the Johnson City urban growth boundary under the countywide “smart-growth” annexation plan from more than a decade ago. Broughton said that if a move to abandon the Bluff City charter was successful that even though Bluff City operates no schools, the lack of Bluff City as a municipality could allow Johnson City to annex that area. The Baker land has access to a 24-inch sewer line that feeds into the Bristol sewer system, Baker said.

“We’ve got to build a school where the growth is,” Thomas said. “Like Donald Trump, we’ll build a wall. We can’t allow ourselves to build schools that will be taken away.”

The area is across from the Tri-County Industrial Park but not readily seen from U.S. Highway 11E because of a ridge, and it is not in the Johnson City urban growth boundary, Baker said.

Broughton, who opposes the plan to close North and sell it to Kingsport for $20 million for conversion to a city middle school, abstained. He also questioned the transportation plans for both more centralized schools, but Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski said a new computer program the system bought last year will make detailed bus routes that do not exceed the maximum allowed 90-minute time one way on a school bus.

“If we can’t get the students there (in time), there’s no sense in buying that piece of property,” Broughton said. The other buyer’s agents that vied for the job or jobs were Chrysolite Management Group LLC of Kingsport, Fairway Realty of Blountville, Re-Max Checkmate LLC of Johnson City and the TCI Jerry Petzoldt Agency LLC of Johnson City. Such professional services do not have to be bid, under Tennessee law.


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