BOE’s decision on Weaver Elementary could affect other facilities set to close

Rick Wagner • Feb 26, 2018 at 1:45 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Have you heard the story about a sourdough bread maker with plans for an old school building in eastern Sullivan County, a cemetery that dates back to the Revolutionary War but has modern space limitations, and a man who wants to own a small patch of land he’s mowed for 50 years?

Those are some of the many moving parts behind why it has taken the Sullivan County Board of Education a work session and two called meeting to reach a vote Thursday on how to move forward with disposing of the former Weaver Elementary School property.

The overriding reason for the delay, however, is that BOE members believe with Weaver they will set a precedent for disposing of schools no longer in use in coming years, a group that will grow in number as the county builds a new middle school in 2019 and a new high school in 2020. Facilities that will close include Colonial Heights, Blountville, Bluff City and Holston Valley middle schools and the middle school part of Sullivan Gardens K-8.

Weaver Elementary is on Weaver Pike, in a rural area near the site of the new Sullivan East Middle and current Sullivan East High and not far from the old Rader’s Store. The former school dating to 1921 was operating until the end of the last academic year, when the BOE closed it at the urging of an engineer because of a structural problem.

Now the issue is disposing of the building and its 10.5 acres. As previously reported, a California-based bread maker is interested in the buildings and all the land for a production facility, the Weaver Cemetery Association wants about three acres for an expansion and neighbor Bill Edwards in adjoining Gray Acres wants a 50-by-75-foot strip he’s mowed since 1968.

And then there’s Weaver Union Church which, according to BOE Chairman Michael Hughes, has some interest in the property too.

On Thursday, the BOE finally decided on the basic recommendation school board attorney Pat Hull had given at the board’s last called meeting on the matter: Offer four parcels and then the property as a whole in a sealed-bid auction after 10 days’ notice in local newspapers. By law, the school board is not bound to sell to the high bidder or bidders and reserves the right to reject all bids. Only personal property, such as vehicles, furniture and tools, must be sold to the highest bidder. Real estate is exempt from that requirement.

Chairman Michael Hughes said he wants to give some preference to selling to local folks and neighbors of the property, offering the slivers of land to the homeowners, three acres to the cemetery and seven acres with the building and gym to the bread maker or others who want to bid on it.

However, Matthew Spivey said that he wants to protect the interests of taxpayers and at least see what the parcels will bring at auction and then discuss how or if to divide the property. Cemetery association President Marvin Melvin said that 1,000 unsold plots likely will last another 50 years, at which time the cemetery would run out of new plots.

Vice Chairman Randall Jones said the same thing as Spivey, while Mark Ireson said he is more prone to sell the three acres to the cemetery and a sliver to Edwards but not necessarily to Edwards’ neighbor, Eddie Huff. Complicating matters a bit is that Huff wants to buy a strip of land behind his house, too, but he is also trying to sell his residence. Edwards said if the county will sell the strip, Huff wants either to buy it or to give the purchaser of his property the opportunity to do so.  

Dan Wells agreed with selling a sliver to Edwards for “his continued use of that” but had no preference for the rest of the property, while Jerry Greene said in fairness the four parcels in question need to be marked off onsite in some clear fashion to let folks know what is at stake.

And finally, Jane Thomas said 250 years of history in the cemetery, which has four Revolutionary War soldiers, one from the War of 1812 and Civil War through Vietnam soldiers buried in it, needs to be honored, pointing out the school land was donated by local families.

What will happen? Who knows, but whatever does may set the stage for the sale of an old Sullivan County school in your area.