If you build it (without a pool and no road improvements), will they come?

J. H. Osborne • Feb 21, 2018 at 11:15 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Swimming pools and access roads. Those two things, related to the new high school Sullivan County is about to construct, dominated much of the Sullivan County Commission’s monthly meeting on Monday. Lots of talk. Little action.

Most talk about swimming pools, or more to the point the lack thereof in current plans for the new school, came from members of the public. Some predicted the lack of a pool at the new school (plans are to bus students three miles up Interstate 81 to the pool at Central High School) will lead to an exodus of students from the county’s school system.

Talk about a new road to provide access to the new school came from speakers during public comment, county commissioners and Highway Commissioner Jim Belgeri.

Belgeri is seeking County Commission approval to spend up to $300,000 to hire an engineering consultant to design an access road between State Route 357 (the west side of Interstate 81’s Exit 63) to the site of a planned new 1,700-student county high school off Lynn Road. To get to the site today, you have to traverse a two-lane road past Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee (the former Sam’s Club), and wind around curves and up and down hills past Waste Management.

Belgeri first raised the issue of a new access road, likely based at least in part on upgrades to current roadway, more than a year ago — and attempted to get the Tennessee Department of Transportation to kick in some help. But that didn’t pan out, Belgeri told county commissioners Tuesday.

Commissioner Sherry Grubb is sponsor of a resolution calling on the County Commission to authorize Belgeri to spend up to $300,000 to hire an engineering firm to begin design work on the road.

Commissioners devoted much of their discussion on the issue to whether to allow Grubb to list that resolution on “first reading” Tuesday. That designation meant Grubb wasn’t calling for a vote on the proposal, meaning commissioners would have until next month to discuss the topic and raise questions and seek answers. Commissioner Pat Shull raised the objection, asking to “defer” the resolution’s “first reading” status until next month. Shull’s move was seconded by Commissioner Baxter Hood. It was, to say the least, an unusual move. County Attorney Dan Street said he’d never heard of such a request, to defer “first reading” status, in all his years with the county — a point echoed by several longtime commissioners. After considerable debate, the commission voted to deny Shull’s request to defer.

One sticking point about the road is its preliminary proposed path. Representatives of both Second Harvest and Waste Management expressed concerns the large number of large trucks entering and exiting their operations each day would be a danger to buses and students driving to and from school. Several commissioners said they have been approached by Second Harvest about the nonprofit selling the county land it owns between its facility and the interstate.

Belgeri, speaking to the commission’s Education Committee in a called meeting immediately after the commission meeting ended, said that simply is not feasible because of the terrain, a creek that runs through that property, and the close proximity to TDOT’s right of way.

As for traffic, Belgeri said the first step in the engineering work he is seeking to fund would be a traffic study. The results would play a key role in designing the road’s width, number of lanes and other factors, Belgeri said.

One idea that’s been floated, Belgeri said, is for the road to be at least three lanes, with one of the lanes being dedicated for use only by the 40 buses expected to go to and from the school each day.


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