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What is Kingsport's long-term school facilities plan?

Rick Wagner • Jan 5, 2020 at 7:45 AM

KINGSPORT — Kingsport City Schools hasn’t completed Phase 1 of a three-phase plan to build new schools and improve existing ones, but the funding already is running thin.

“Our average building is right at 70 years old,” Assistant Superintendent of Schools Andy True said at a recent school board retreat.

One of the buildings that will be retired in Phase 1 is Jackson Elementary, built in 1927. Some of its classrooms still have remnants of fireplaces.

The KCS plans on rezoning some areas of the city to help equalize available classroom space and numbers of students.

“We’re going to have to start shifting kids to where teachers are,” Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse said.

WHAT ARE THE THREE PHASES?

During the retreat, the Board of Education received a review of past plans for Phase 1 that included renovating Sullivan North/Middle schools into the new Sevier Middle at a then-projected cost of $1.5 million, not counting the $20 million the city paid the county for the facility.

Other parts of Phase 1 are renovating the current Sevier — originally the 1926 Dobyns-Bennett High School — into the new Jackson Elementary at a cost of $2 million to open in the fall of 2022. Jackson is to close as a school that spring.

The D-B Regional Center for Science and Technology was to cost about $21.5 million, renovations and maintenance of other facilities $8 million and work on D-B EXCEL $500,000.

However, Chief Financial Officer David Frye said only a “couple of million” dollars remains available for those projects. In addition, D-B Principal Chris Hampton recently said maintenance needs at D-B include replacing carpet that has outlasted its usefulness.

As for Phase 2, no money has been set aside or earmarked for that work. It included building a new middle school or renovating an existing county school facility for $35 million.

If that occurred, the next step would be to renovate Robinson Middle into an elementary school and move Lincoln and Jefferson schools into what is now Robinson.

And for Phase 3, which also has no dollars allotted to it yet, plans are for a new $13.5 million elementary school to replace the current Kennedy and Roosevelt facilities just north of Stone Drive.

HOW WILL MIDDLE SCHOOLS BE EQUALIZED? REZONING

“We’re anticipating the next enrollment bump to be when they (Sullivan County school leaders) close North and South,” Moorhouse said.

Those two schools and Central High will close as high schools in 2021. All North and South and some or all Central students will be rezoned to the new West Ridge High School to open near Tri-Cities Airport in August 2021.

Sevier Middle has about 770 students and Robinson more than 1,000. Jim Nash, chief officer of student services, said that when those facilities reopen, the numbers will shift a bit, but the new Sevier at the North building needs to take in more students to relieve Robinson. BOE member Todd Golden predicted some Bloomingdale students outside the city would come into the Kingsport system as tuition students.

“We’re at maximum capacity at Robinson right now,” Nash said.

Both Kennedy and Roosevelt elementary schools feed into Robinson. Kennedy is an “island” in an area that otherwise feeds students into Sevier. Nash said the travel distance from Kennedy to either middle school is almost the same, 2.2 miles to Sevier compared to 2.5 miles to Robinson, although Kennedy students bound for Robinson literally pass Sevier.

“We need to start communicating this (rezoning will occur) again,” Moorhouse said.

Washington, Roosevelt, Jackson and Lincoln feed into Sevier, while Jefferson, Johnson, Kennedy and Adams feed into Robinson. Under proposed rezoning, however, Jefferson would be split between Sevier and Robinson and Kennedy switched from Robinson to Sevier.

After the projects are completed, the projected “live-in” numbers are 902 for Sevier and 827 for Robinson.

PATH FORWARD: OUT WITH THE OLD (BUILDINGS), IN WITH THE NEW

“Nothing says no growth like a closed school,” said BOE member Jim Welch, a retired Robinson history teacher.

Moorhouse said the school system staff would develop recommendations for disposition of the old buildings.

However, looking forward, Golden suggested the school system and city partner to “grow a new Adams.” He was referring to the city’s newest school, Adams Elementary near Rock Springs. The school, which cost more than $17 million, was built on land donated by developers of the Edinburgh, a community surrounding the Adams campus.

“If we don’t grow, we will be stagnant,” Golden said.

Before the Edinburgh developers came along, the plan had been for the newest elementary school to be in the Cook’s Valley area to the east toward Indian Springs and Fall Creek.

“Maybe that’s something we should revisit,” Golden said.

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