Twenty-two additional potential school sites identified, but owners unwilling to sell

Rick Wagner • Nov 27, 2016 at 2:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — When the folks from Bristol, Tenn.-based Interstate Realty sought and got the job to be the buyer’s agent in the Sullivan County school system’s search for sites for a new high school and middle school, agent Bill Ward said they thought it would be a relatively easy job.

Instead, they found 22 feasible sites that the owners didn’t want to sell in addition to the 15 properties whose owners were willing, at least, to consider selling. As one person told Ward, anything he has is for sale for a price.

They also ran up against folks who were absolutely unwilling to sell because they opposed the new schools and others who would never consider selling for any reason. Some of the latter included people whose family had owned land since the Civil War and in some cases since the Revolutionary War. At the Board of Education work session Tuesday, Ward said he, fellow agent Tommy Perrigan and Interstate owner Mike Nidiffer didn’t realize how many people owned land for generations going back to the 1700s and the “great-great-great-great-granddaddy.” Ward said some were very straightforward: Don’t come back. Don’t call. People have been stopping here for years. We don’t want to sell and won’t.

The good news, he said, is nobody pulled a gun on the agents looking for a home for a proposed 1,700-student high school near Northeast State Community College off Exit 63 of Interstate 81 and an 800-student middle school in the Sullivan East High School zone.

Board of Education member Mark Ireson of Colonial Heights asked if any sites for the high school were considered in the vicinity of Exit 59, and Ward said at least one was. However, he said the issue was that most of that property was well within the Kingsport city limits, in the middle of a lake, already developed or simply not developable. Likewise, some of the middle school sites were near the Bristol, Tenn., city limits.

So when Interstate presented its list of eight potential high school sites and six potential middle school sites to the BOE Tuesday, it also presented lists of properties it investigated but whose owners are unwilling to sell. In theory, the county could condemn land for public use, but the school system is looking for willing sellers who would take a fair price. 

For instance, one proposed high school site near Tri-Cities Regional Airport is partly owned by the city of Kingsport, and Ward said the city is willing to sell at tax appraisal value.

At least one owner willing to sell indicated “anything” was for sale at “the right price,” Ward said, but that won’t be a topic unless that property makes the BOE’s list of finalists, which is to include three sites for each proposed school. 

The 15 potential high school sites identified but with owners unwilling to sell are 2796 Highway 75, 2816 Highway 75, 2862 BFB Road, 920 Centenary Road, 52 Catawba Lane, Childress Ferry Road, Spurgeon Lane, 1030 Lebanon Road (near Interstate 81’s Exit 59), 943 Centenary Road, 2204 Highway 75, 2945 Highway 75, 872 Henry Harr Road, 352 Fieldcrest Road, Bondtown Road and 398 Pitt Road.

Ward said seven potential sites with owners unwilling to sell for the middle school are: 2684 Weaver Pike, 3108 Weaver Pike, 3588 Weaver Pike, Jacobs Weaver Pike, 4847 Weaver Pike, 3829 Rock Hold Road and 3626 Rock Hold Road. Another site was proposed early on by owner Chad Baker along U.S. Highway 11E before Interstate was hired, but BOE Chairman Michael Hughes said it was simply too far from Holston Valley Middle School, which along with Bluff City Middle and the middle school part of Mary Hughes School would be replaced by the new 800-student middle school.

However, that doesn’t mean that the pool of potential sites is closed just yet since school board members still can present potential sites for consideration. In addition, Interstate officials won’t talk price until the board chooses its top picks, which will occur after input from Cain Rash West Architectural Services of Kingsport. Luther Cain of that business said the firm has reviewed about 80 percent of the sites identified Tuesday and would put together input and rough site preparation cost estimates.

In addition, a letter of intent for the county and Kingsport school facilities plans will go before the Sullivan County Commisson’s three standing committees Nov. 29, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, with Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski and county BOE members on hand to answer any questions.