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Supervisors say proceed with planning for J.J. Kelly renovations

Mike Still • Mar 13, 2020 at 4:33 PM

WISE — Despite a doubling in projected costs, the Wise County Board of Supervisors voted on Thursday to move ahead on planning and design for renovating the former J.J. Kelly High School building for a county office building.

County Administrator Mike Hatfield asked the supervisors on Thursday for guidance on how to proceed on the project. Originally projected to cost about $10 million and house the county administrative offices, social services department, county school system central offices and the health department, the project could now reach a $20-$25 million range.

Hatfield said much of the increase came from the costs to turn the school’s auditorium and gym into two-story sections and for demolition for parking areas. The board of supervisors in 2019 agreed to dedicate 2 cents of a 7-cent per $100 assessed value real estate tax hike for the project.

Hatfield said planning from 2019 was based on the tax hike paying for financing on the project for 25 years. If the board agreed to go with the project at revise estimates, he said, the project could still be finances with the 2-cent tax share but for 30 years.

Hatfield said that board guidance was necessary since the social services department has to move out of its temporary quarters in the former Sykes building at the Lonesome Pine Technology Park. Snow damage to the department’s Coeburn Mountain Road headquarters last year forced the move, with agreement from the county Industrial Development Authority.

Supervisor Bobby Cassell said he preferred to see the county go with the J.J. Kelly project option. Supervisor Robbie Robbins said the board needs to consider the possibility that one of its major tax revenue sources — the Dominion Energy Center in Virginia City — could close in 25 years after the General Assembly approved legislation giving the Center 25 years to become a carbon-free power plant.

Hatfield said the plant may not close if it reached the carbon-free state mandate, and the county is also looking at its school consolidation bond debt ending in about six years.

Supervisor James Lawson said the board should consider talks with the city of Norton about consolidating both entities social services, health departments and school systems. With that, Lawson said, the former Goody’s clothing store at the VA-KY Regional Shopping Center could offer a single-story, handicapped-accessible option for combined offices central to the city and county.

Supervisor J.H. Rivers asked Hatfield if going with a new site and new construction would be more economical than overhauling the Kelly building. Hatfield said a new foundation and building alone would cost more than renovating Kelly.

The board voted 5-2, with Lawson and Supervisor Fred J. Luntsford, Jr. opposing, to have Hatfield proceed with the Kelly site option. Hatfield said that would allow the county to move on three phases — hiring an architect, replacing the building’s windows and installing a new roof.

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