Public dives in to support pool at new Sullivan high school

Rick Wagner • Mar 6, 2018 at 10:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Whether the new Sullivan County high school will have a pool was not on Monday night’s school board agenda, but the board got a full-court press from four supporters of the idea.

The four — a high school swim coach, a former Sullivan Central High School swimmer now on the Milligan College swim team on scholarship and one current and one former swim team mother — spoke during public comment about the importance of a pool.

Board members last month at a work session asked architects to design and get a cost estimate on a free-standing building for a pool at the new 1,700-student high school, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2020 off Exit 63 of Interstate 81.

Chairman Michael Hughes after the meeting said it was simply a matter of funding and that the board hopes lower-than-anticipated bids on the new $20 million Sullivan East Middle School, possibly lower high school bids and/or additional County Commission funding could make the pool at the $60 million high school become a reality. At one time, architects had estimated the cost for a pool at the school at about $5 million.

The plan was to use the existing Sullivan Central High School pool about three miles away, although with five lanes pool supporters said it is not large enough for swim meets. The plan now is to get a cost estimate and plans for a free-standing pool and building, which could be bid out separately or added as a change order to the bid for the rest of the project.

“This experience in high school helped me get to college and get a scholarship,”  Milligan freshman Anna Whitfield said of her four years on the Central swim team. 

Keri Dawson of Blountville has a daughter on the Central swim team and said swimming is one of the few sports a freshman can participate in and not be at a huge disadvantage from not being on a team in the past.

“It’s been the best thing that’s ever happened to her,” Dawson said, adding that the merger of all of the Sullivan North and South high zones and much or all of Central High’s zone into one school will mean fewer sports team slots in other sports. “That’s why swim is so unique.” In addition, she said the freestanding pool would provide opportunities for student and public swimming in the summer, potential lease opportunities for private swim clubs that she said have a difficult time scheduling space and time at the YMCA.

“There is a need in this community for a large, better swim facility,” Dawson said. 

Central swim coach Jan McCann presented the board with a two-page letter from Chris Coraggio, president of the Tennessee High School Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association and head coach of the Science Hill High School team and the Barracuda Swim Team of Northeast Tennessee. He urged a new pool for health, safety and athletic program access, pointing out that Healthy Kingsport puts the obesity rate in Sullivan County at 31 percent of the population and obese and overweight folks combined at 73 percent.

Marysusan Dougherty, mother of a former Central swim team member, said county students deserve the same opportunities as surrounding Bristol, Tenn., Johnson City and Kingsport schools. She said a pool could be used in the summer for cooldown time for band, football and cross country participants, for “water running” for track and cross country participants, special education students and Sheriff’s Office diving practice, as well as adult swimming, water aerobics and family swims.

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