Proposal to build road to new school likely hot topic at Sullivan Commission meeting

J. H. Osborne • May 20, 2018 at 8:45 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Commission on Monday is expected to discuss and potentially vote up or down on funding related to building a new road to the county’s new high school.

The resolution to hire an engineering firm to design a new road leading to the new high school to be built off Interstate 81’s Exit 63 has twice been deferred from a full commission vote. An earlier version of the resolution sought authorization to spend up to $300,000 for the engineering firm’s work, but that has since had a line drawn through it. Highway Commissioner Jim Belgeri has said he estimated $3 million cost of the actual road construction could come out of his department’s $5.6 million surplus.

Commissioner Sherry Grubb is primary sponsor of the resolution. And until a few days ago, her co-sponsor was Commissioner Mark Vance. But at the commission’s work session last week, Vance asked that his name be removed.

Speaking to the commission at that work session, Belgeri — whose term in office will end August 31 — said if an affirmative vote does not happen now the road won’t happen.

Asked what the Sullivan County Board of Education could offer as an alternative, should this proposal fail, Director of Sullivan County Schools Evelyn Rafalowski said she had no alternative to offer.

An official ground breaking for the new school took place earlier this month. West Ridge High School is scheduled to open in the fall of 2020 as a replacement for Sullivan South High School, Sullivan North High School and Sullivan Central High School (some Central students will go to West Ridge, some will go to Sullivan East High School).

After Vance withdrew as co-sponsor, Commissioner Pat Shull said that for the purpose of discussion he would step in as co-sponsor. Shull said that doesn’t mean he will support the proposal in the end, but he wanted the issue to receive a public airing and the chance to be either voted up or down.

Supporters of the proposal say time is wasting, Belgeri’s offer to use the Sullivan County Highway Department’s surplus is a good thing, and the county needs to do whatever it can to make sure there’s a safer, easier way for students to access the school.

Opponents are pointing fingers at the school system and the architectural firm who designed the new school for not including plans for a better access roads from the get-go, and some also are saying the highway money needs to be spent paving roads throughout the county and the school system should pick up the tab for the new road.

The Sullivan County Commission is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Monday on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse. Public comment is allowed prior to the start of the voting agenda for the day.