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Number of potential new Sullivan school sites grows

Rick Wagner • Dec 2, 2016 at 1:15 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s school board is playing a full-court press leading up to the planned Dec. 12 County Commission vote on a $140 million countywide school facilities plan.

And the new high school to take the place of Sullivan South, North and much of Central high school is looking more like a school along Interstate 81 or other thoroughfares near Exits 63 and 66 of I-81, while the new middle school to serve the Sullivan East High zone and replace three middle school programs there is looking like it might be close to Sullivan East High and have room for a future elementary school or even a neighborhood like that around Kingsport’s Adams Elementary School.

Although the number of potential new high school sites and middle school sites grew by one each Thursday, from eight to to nine and six to seven, respectively, the board plans to narrow its focus to two or three sites for each facility at its Monday meeting.

That leaves the board, with input from architects, Bristol-based Interstate Realty, school system staff and the public to pick from a list of nine potential high school sites and seven potential middle schools. Then, the board plans to narrow the focus to either one or two sites for each facility at a rare called Saturday school board meeting at 9 a.m. Dec. 10, two days before the second reading of the commission resolution.

Board members Jane Thomas of the Bluff City/Bristol area and Matthew Spivey of Kingsport called the ramped-up process make or break for the facilities plan since the commissioners and public want to know where the new schools would be, although member Mark Ireson of Colonial Heights was adamant that the timeline was “way too fast, way too fast.”

“I’m against that. That’s ridiculous,” Ireson said during Thursday’s BOE work session. “This is the biggest thing this Board of Education has ever done, and we’re going to do it in five days?” Spivey, however, said the board needs to show the commission it is at least making progress on a location.

“We have got to sell this,” Thomas said. “We’ve got to get this going.”

Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski said that even if the school board ends up with one high school and one middle school site on Dec. 10, it would not be a done deal until price negotiations, a traffic study and commission funding are done. However, Chairman Michael Hughes of the Bluff City area said he was ready to narrow his choices down to two for each school, and Vice Chairman Randall Jones said he could narrow his to two high school sites and three middle school ones.

Of the nine high school sites from Interstate getting favorable rankings, architect Dineen West of Kingsport-based Cain Rash West Architectural Services included only two in the favorable list. One was the 112-acre Lynn Road site next to Waste Management and near Second Harvest Food Bank and prominent from I-81 with sewer available — although it would require construction of an entrance road. Her firm is working with North Carolina-based LS3P senior vice president Paul Boney

The second, a 71.5-acre 5565 Highway 126 site near McDonald’s and the old Carolina Pottery development at Exit 66, also got a favorable ranking from West despite sewer access issues but only if it can get past issues about State Route 126, which in that section is to be upgraded from a two-lane road to a two-lane with shoulders. 

(The new Childress Ferry Road site, 94.5 acres near the Lynn Road site, got an unfavorable ranking because of a lack of good road access and distance from I-81.)

As for the seven middle school sites, three were ranked favorably, including the 63-acres Broyles Lane/Highway 394 site because of access and a second entrance possibility, among other things.

The Weaver Pike/Harrington Hollow Road site of 69.14 acres was ranked favorably because of its proximity to East and road access, with hooking it up to a nearby sewer line an opportunity to get East off a septic system. Rafalowski said it and East could share athletic facilities in a cost-savings measure and transportation would be simplified.

And the new potential site, Highway 394/Weaver Pike, was ranked favorably. Its 167 acres, of which only 70 would be needed for the middle school with a later elementary school, could have a surrounding residential neighborhood (like Adams) around it. Near Faith Lutheran Church and adjacent to Bristol Metals, it would require a sewer pump station, is in the Bristol city limits and is for sale only as a whole 167 acres.

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