They also chose a 69-acre site on Weaver Pike just south of Sullivan East High School for a proposed $20 million, 800-student middle school, choosing a site that someday could be home to a new elementary school, too.
The backup sites, like the top picks chosen from a list of three for each project the Board of Education decided Dec. 5, are one off state Route 126 near the Carolina Pottery shopping center and Central High for the high school and the Thomas Lane adjoining Bluff City Highway and paralleling but not adjacent to U.S. Highway 11E in Piney Flats for the middle school.
After months of work by architects and a buyer’s agent, the decision came down to BOE members voting on a paper ballot for a first choice and second choice on ballots after a review of three potential high school and three potential middle school sites by architects Dineen West of Cain Rash West and Paul Boney of LS3P and some comments by Bill Ward of Interstate Realty.
If Sullivan County Commission approval of bonds to fund the project comes Monday at its meeting starting at 9 a.m. in the old County Courthouse, BOE Chairman Michael Hughes of the Hickory Tree area said the project would move forward quickly with a new high school possibly opening in as little as three years and a new middle school in as little as two years.
School board attorney Pat Hull said the tallying wasn’t too difficult because the decisions were clear cut: Lynn Road got six first place votes; 126 got six second place votes; and the Airport Parkway site got one first place vote and one second place vote. The board then voted 6-0, with member Mark Ireson abstaining, to approve the two choices.
West said a negative of the Lynn Road site, near the Jericho Temple, was mass grading, which was a negative of all six considered sites, and possibly issues with an entry road; however, she said has at least two entrances, Lynn Road and Henry Harr Road from Airport Parkway with the possible addition of Shipley Ferry Road, utilities access, a ridge on the side of the property that would be a good buffer, great views and visibility from I-81 and a natural bowl for the football stadium.
The middle school tallying found six first place votes and one second place vote for the Weaver Pike/Harrington Hollow Road site; three second place votes and one first place vote for the Thomas Lane site; and three second place votes for the Broyles Lane/state Route 394 site. The board then voted 7-0 to adopt Weaver Pike/Harrington as its choice with Thomas Lane as the backup.
West said unfavorable things included having to have sewer work but that it could share a sewer hookup with East, mass gradings and a hill on part of the site where the elementary school could be located later. Favorable things included two entrances, an eight-inch water main, great views and road visibility and its proximity to East and the potential future elementary school site.
Ireson of Colonial Heights after the meeting said he voted for the middle school site because he believes the county must have a new middle school in the East area but abstained on the high school site because he believes other options, including a scenario he proposed, could keep three existing high schools open and cost less.
Member Jane Thomas of the Bluff City/Bristol area strongly argued for the Thomas Lane site for the middle school, and she previously said none of it was owned by any of the Thomas family, emphasizing that it was near a current population base and potential population growth in Piney Flats. However, West said smaller parcels of the property had different owners who might or might not be willing to sell and that land slope would make it a difficult building site.
The BOE vote gives the County Commission the top site picks as it prepares Monday to vote on a resolution to fund a countywide $140 million school facilities plan, which would fund the two county projects plus go toward a new regional science and technology center at Dobyns-Bennett High School and a new Vance Middle School in Bristol, Tenn.
In addition, Kingsport would use $20 million of its bond proceeds to buy Sullivan North High/Middle School from the county for conversion into a city middle school. Funding would come from a 9-cent countywide property tax rate increase and reusing more than $4 million going toward bonds that are about to be retired.
The new high school would serve the current Sullivan North and South high school zones and most of the students in the Central zone, with about 250 Central students being rezoned to East. South and Central would become middle schools, allowing the shuttering of other middle school buildings including Colonial Heights Middle and the grades 6-8 portion of Sullivan K-8.
Likewise, the East zone middle school would take all East zone middle school students, leading to the closure of Bluff City and Holston Valley middle schools and the grades 6-8 portion of Mary Hughes School, a K-8 facility in Piney Flats.
School board Chairman Hughes told reporters after the meeting that if the commission doesn’t approve the funding, the school board will have some hard decisions to make about schools, including some closings as early as the fall of 2018. He mentioned no specific schools, but among schools with maintenance issues are Weaver Elementary, with roof and structural problems; Colonial Heights Middle, with a leaky roof; and the 6-8 portion of Sullivan Garden K-8, the old Sullivan West High School.