New front, science and technology center, coming to D-B

Rick Wagner • Dec 8, 2017 at 8:54 AM

KINGSPORT — City education officials and other local leaders opened a new chapter for Kingsport City Schools Thursday, marking the imminent start of the largest single investment in the modern Dobyns-Bennett High School since it opened in 1967.

The afternoon groundbreaking, viewable on a Facebook Live video at the Kingsport Times-News Facebook page, took place under sunny skies but with temperatures in the 40s and a brisk wind. It was for a $20 million new front for D-B and a Regional Science and Technology Center and held on roughly the same spot as the April 15, 1965, groundbreaking for the original school building project that replaced the first D-B, now Sevier Middle School. At the 1965 ceremony, Superintendent Dana Swick and Mayor Hugh Rule attended. In 2017, it was interim Superintendent Dwain Arnold and Mayor John Clark.

Arnold is filling in while the school board seeks a replacement for former Superintendent Lyle Ailshie, who after five years left the system in August to become a deputy Tennessee commissioner of education. D-B Principal Chris Hampton said Ailshie helped immensely with D-B 2.0, a study of the school’s needs that predated the 2014-15 DeYong-Richter consultant’s separate but parallel studies of Kingsport and Sullivan County school needs.

 The structure will be about 75,000 square feet and have three floors. 

Mayor John Clark said D-B is a big reason Kingsport has a “small town feel but with big city opportunities.” The facility will bring D-B’s capacity up to 2,500 students at an 85 percent utilization. The school has more than 2,100 students and needs room, officials said.

Let there be light

Although it was touted as an “ultra-modern high school” with wall-to-wall carpet when D-B opened in 1967, 50 years later the design of having only one window per classroom has given way to a wall of windows to let in natural light in the front.

“The new building, if you’ve seen the renderings, will be the opposite of (minimal windows),” said John Poelker, architect with Perkins + Will that is designing the facility to be built by BurWil Construction.

“It’s been quite an adventure,” Poelker said. “Rarely do we see opportunities as unique as this.”

Throughout the process that started in December of 2015, he said the mantra has been “the student comes first.”

D-B student body President John Lewis Corker said the addition is the “new face and front door to the D-B campus” and will be a training ground for science and technology learning for “careers not yet invented or maybe not imagined.”

Hampton said the “space-age high school” of 50 years ago will be brought into the 21st century without losing its iconic design and style of the 1960s. The D-B letters on the wall in front of the school will be removed when that wall is torn down but reincorporated into a new sign, Hampton said.

What about parking?

Hampton said student parking, lost to the construction phase temporarily and permanently when the project is done, will be offset by converting the driver’s education area near Fort Henry Drive into student parking, with the driver’s ed space to be moved elsewhere. Also, Hampton said some staff and faculty parking will be moved to Indian Highland Park, across Center Street.

He said the biggest change will be in January with new pickup and dropoff areas and procedures. By then, a fenced-in construction zone will block off part of the current student parking and the current main entrance.

How did all this get funded, and what are the other projects? 

BOE President Susan Lodal thanked Sullivan County, Kingsport and Bristol, Tenn., officials for working together and the County Commission for approving a $140 million bond issue, made in early 2017, that funds the D-B project. It also funds the county’s new Sullivan East Middle School, to open in the fall of 2019, and the new but as-yet unnamed Sullivan County high school, set to open in the fall of 2020, near Exit 63 of Interstate 81.

Sullivan County Schools received nearly $67.2 million, Bristol City Schools received $27 million, Kingsport City Schools received nearly $45.3 million and Johnson City Schools $520,700. Bristol school officials have planned a new Vance Middle School and possibly elementary school improvements, although no groundbreakings are imminent there. Kingsport used part of its bond proceeds to pay $20 million for the Sullivan North High/Middle School building, which is to become a city middle school by 2021.

Basic timeline for the project

2012: D-B 2.0, a look at future needs for Dobyns-Bennett High School, starts as a more than year-long study under D-B Principal Chris Hampton with input from a committee and then-Superintendent Lyle Ailshie.

2014: Kingsport and Sullivan County school boards decide to proceed with separate but parallel school facilities studies by DeYong-Richter, with support from Ailshie and then-Sullivan County Director of Schools Jubal Yennie.

2015-16: Kingsport makes plans for and approves the Regional Science and Technology Center, a new front for D-B, and eventually the purchase of Sullivan County’s Sullivan North High School/Middle School for use as a city middle school.

December 2016: The Sullivan County Commission approves issuance of a $140 million countywide bond issue for school capital projects, split among the county, Kingsport and Bristol, Tenn., schools, with a small portion to Johnson City schools. The money is split based on shares of student enrollment in the county.

March 31, 2017: School systems receive bond proceeds.

Dec. 7, 2017: Kingsport City Schools breaks ground on the center, with construction in earnest to start by January.

March 2019: Kingsport school officials plan a ribbon cutting for the new center.

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