French bread maker wants to buy Weaver Elementary

Rick Wagner • Feb 7, 2018 at 8:48 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Ooh la la. Is the possibility of Sullivan County’s school system selling a former elementary school to a French bread making facility a good plan or half-baked?

If the sourdough bread making doesn’t work out, the Board of Education plans to make sure the land and facility, part of which dates back to 1921, won’t be used for educational purposes ever again. In any case, the future of the former Weaver Elementary in eastern Sullivan County may become a little clearer after a called school board meeting later this week.

That is one of two items the board will consider at a called session at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday.

The other agenda item is for the board to vote whether it wants to seek permission of the Tennessee Supreme Court to appeal a lower court ruling against the county in seeking about $2 million in retroactive liquor-by-the-drink tax revenue from Kingsport and Bristol, with board members indicating they likely will go along with however the County Commission votes. Last month, the commission voted not to appeal, but it could change its mind at its Feb. 20 meeting before a Feb. 26 deadline to request permission to appeal.


The board last month declared Weaver, 3341 Weaver Pike, and its 10.5-acre site surplus property and is moving forward with the disposition of the property, home to a building the board voted to close at the end of last school year because of structural concerns.

By law, the school system does not have to auction off the property to the highest bidder. School board attorney Pat Hull’s recommendation says the school board, in newspaper ads, would point out it could reject any and all bids. In addition, the language includes prohibiting the property from ever being used for educational or school purposes again, suggested by Vice Chairman Randall Jones. That would nix use by a private school or public charter school in the future.

The matter was on the agenda at Monday night’s regular meeting, but on a motion by board member Mark Ireson, the board voted 7-0 to table Hull’s recommendation to go forward with a sealed bid auction of Weaver. The idea wasn’t to delay the plan but rather to firm up details since, as Ireson pointed out, the board already was going to consider details of Hull’s proposal during the called Thursday meeting.


The California-based French toast operation is one of three interested parties in the school building and land, along with another commercial entity and an adjoining church. Also, a cemetery is interested in part of the property, and two adjoining residential property owners are interested in small slivers of land adjoining their properties. Board members have indicated a willingness to sell the slivers to the adjoining property owners, who have maintained and mowed the land in question for years. The property has been split into four sections on a map, the two slivers of land, some vacant land the cemetery might purchase and the building and some land.

Hull’s recommendation is to accept bids on individual parcels and/or as a whole with the board reserving the right to reject all bids. The French toast maker, represented by Jonesborough native Blaine Lewis, an investor in his brother’s company, said bakery officials are also considering another area site for the operation. Lewis said his brother has 50 years of experience in the bakery business and asked the board not sell the property in pieces until it did “due diligence” to determine if it needed all the land, including the slivers, or just part of it.

Ambre Torbett, director of planning and codes for Sullivan County, said Tuesday the R-1 or single-family residential zoning would have to be changed to accommodate the bread-making operating but that the facilities do have Bristol sewer service. She said Weaver Pike has some commercially zoned property. She said nonprofit cemeteries do not have to have rezoning. 


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