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Blountville, Colonial Heights schools could be declared surplus next month

BLOUNTVILLE — The former Blountville Elementary/Middle schools campus and the former Colonial Heights Middle School soon could be yours.

But you’ll likely need to submit the highest sealed bid, and Sullivan County school system officials haven’t quite figured out all the ins and outs about potential ownership do’s and don’ts.

And by the way, the county commission might want one of the properties.

The school board didn’t declare the two properties surplus at its regular monthly meeting on Thursday, although the schools closed in May.

Chairman Randall Jones expressed concern about the schools deteriorating while not being used, but the board asked its attorney, Pat Hull, to do a little more research on issues with both properties for the board to consider at its Nov. 4 meeting.

Jones said the board probably will have a sealed bid auction but could negotiate the transfer of the school properties to Sullivan County.

The board cannot, under state law, gift them to a nonprofit group without an auction.

Another option is to put the schools in the hands of a real estate agent to sell.


The campus of Colonial Heights Middle, 15.5 acres with a building that opened in 1957, was appraised at $775,000, Hull told the school board. The cost to raze the building would be $401,000 for a net remaining value of $374,000.

However, a possible complication is a deed restriction that says the site can be used only as a school or residential property, which could limit the sale of the property. Hull said he wasn’t sure if the deed restriction is ironclad.

Potential suitors for the site include:

• Tri-Cities Christian Academy, part of Lakeway Christian Schools, which might be interested in buying it or trading property for the site for use as an elementary school.

“We would like to indicate our interest in the property or perhaps swapping some of our property here in Blountville,” Lakeway Christian Executive Director Robert Brown told the board during the public comment session. “We’re here to stay. We just want to be good friends and good partners.”

Tri-Cities is having pre-construction work done on a farm near the Crossings in Sullivan County, near the Washington County line, for a new school that would initially be a pre-K-12 facility. The plan had been to put a new or partly new pre-K-5 facility at the current Tri-Cities property on state Route 75 near Tri-Cities Airport, but a new elementary might be put in a renovated Colonial Heights building.

• Businessman Allyn Hood, who wants to use it for athletics and a community center of sorts. He recently confirmed his interest in an interview and attended the Thursday board meeting.

• Kingsport City Schools, which might want to demolish the school and use the campus as a site for a new elementary school. Kingsport Board of Education President Jim Welch recently said the system has an informal interest in the property.

• Churches near the former middle school and residential developers also could have an interest in the property, school system officials said.


The other property that may be considered next month is the former Blountville schools campus near the middle of the county seat. The old Blountville High School (which became Blountville Middle in 1980) original section opened in 1932, while the elementary school was built in 1952.

Both had later additions and they share a heating and cooling system and a cafeteria.

The appraisal was $1.157 million and the cost to raze the buildings $596,000 for a net remaining worth of $561,000.

Issues for the 25-plus acre site include:

• A Masonic lodge agreement from 1949 says the lodge has a perpetual right to an upstairs meeting room in the old high school building as long as it stands or in any subsequent building. Hull said, however, that may not guarantee a meeting space in perpetuity.

• About 12 acres was gained by eminent domain in 1963 and may be owned by the county, not the school system.

“If it (eminent domain) was filed for the school, that has to mean the school system owns the 12 acres,” Jones said.

Hull said, “I suspect they (Sullivan County commissioners) would disagree with that across the street.”

If not resolved, the ownership issue might force the separate sale of that acreage, which is how a similar issue was handled in the disposition of the former Bluff City Middle property.

Another 12 acres or so is in the name of the school board: 10.68 acres acquired in 1931 and 1.49 acres acquired in 1933.

• The rest of the land, including property under the elementary school foundation, has no deed at all, although Hull said that should not be an issue because of “adverse possession” by the school system.

“How we acquired that is unknown,” Hull said in a work session before the meeting. “About half of the elementary school sits on top of it.”

• The Blountville Volunteer Fire Department also has a 100-year lease on a small section of the school property, which would not be included in the sale. Also, an acre was deeded to the county for use as a library in 1991.

Interested parties include:

• Chris Laisure, a Piney Flats businessman, who gave the board a presentation on what he has done in turning the former Bluff City and Holston Valley middle schools into Impact Centers, basically hubs for nonprofits in those communities.

“We’re very proud of it,” Laisure said. “Hopefully, given the opportunity we can do the same thing here in Blountville.”

Both buildings house food pantries and various other nonprofits, and the Bluff City location soon will house a Head Start program.

“He has done so much more than he said he was going to do,” board member Randall Gilmore, a retired educator who once taught at Bluff City Middle, said during the meeting before presenting Laisure a community partner certificate. Gilmore resigned his seat on the board because he has moved out of his district.

• Sullivan County, which could use the property for office space, storage and other needs.

“I would encourage the county to acquire it, but I don’t have any pull there,” Jones said. At one time, commissioners discussed with Jones trading a new access road to West Ridge High School for the Blountville schools campus.

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Bays Mountain's Fall Fest to feature kids activities, music, food

KINGSPORT — Bays Mountain is currently spotted with changing leaves throughout the park, just in time for Fall Fest.

The park, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, will hold its Fall Fest on Saturday, Oct. 9, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Kids activities will include pumpkin painting, animal mask crafts, airbrush tattoos and more from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

An activity map will be available at the gatehouse.

Live music will also be available.

Alternative bluegrass and country band Monroeville will perform at the Bays Mountain Amphitheater. Live music will continue from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Various food trucks will also be on site, and a cake walk at the Lily Pad Pavilion will take place at 3 p.m., where you can win baked goods from local bakeries.

Guests can also participate in the Nature Quest scavenger hunt throughout the park and earn a prize by completing 10 items.

Bays Mountain is located at 853 Bays Mountain Park Road. For more information, go to https://www.baysmountain.com/event/fall-fest/.

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Foreigner bringing its biggest hits to Freedom Hall next weekend

JOHNSON CITY — Veteran rock-and-roll band Foreigner will bring some of its greatest hits to Freedom Hall Civic Center next Friday.

Foreigner, formed in 1976, has sold more than 80 million albums and is responsible for some of the biggest hits of the 1980s, including “I Want to Know What Love Is,” “Waiting for a Girl Like You” and “Juke Box Hero.”

Although the band will be playing its biggest hits during the tour, Foreigner is far from stuck in the 1980s. In 2019, Foreigner saw its biggest ever one-week digital single sales, and the band’s album sales were at their highest level since the 1980s. The band also sees nearly 2 million Spotify streams a week.

Bassist Jeff Pilson said young fans are, in part, to thank for that.

“I”m amazed at how many young people there are who seem to really know the songs,” said Pilson. “I mean that’s impressive. So yeah, we have a combination. Of course we have the diehards and the longtime fans, which is great, but we do have some new people.”

Over the past four decades, Foreigner has had 16 Top 30 hits and nine Top 10 hits. Despite the numbers, Pilson said fans are always surprised just how well they know the band’s music.

“What 99.9% of the people that go to these shows always say to us is, ‘I forgot how many Foreigner songs I knew. In fact, I didn’t even know I knew that many Foreigner songs.’ ”

The David Crockett High School Choir will be opening for Foreigner with a 10-minute a capella set.

The choir will perform outside the venue before Foreigner takes the stage. The band will also be donating $500 to the choir program.

Pilson said show atten- dees can expect a memorable, high-energy show.

“You’re gonna know a lot of the music,” said Pilson. “You’re gonna have a lot of fun. You’re gonna be singing your lungs out the whole time. There’s a lot of crowd participation, and I think you’re going to walk away having a real great night. That’s our job.”

Foreigner will perform on Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are still on sale and can be purchased at https://www.foreigneronline.com/tour.

Tune Town Old Time String Band to return to Carter Fold Saturday

HILTONS — If you have a hankering for flatfooting to old-time bluegrass music, head over to the Carter Family Fold this weekend.

The concert venue in Hiltons will feature the Tune Town Old Time String Band with Dr. Mark Handy on Saturday, Oct. 9, at 7:30 p.m.

The band has played various shows at the Carter Fold and will return for another night of fast-paced bluegrass music. The North Carolina-based group includes five musicians on the guitar, fiddle, doghouse bass, mandolin and clawhammer banjo. There will also be a doctor in the house with Handy, a family medicine doctor out of Abingdon who will play the banjo and perform lead vocals. Joy Patton will be featured on the fiddle, Ted Ashe will play guitar, Jeff Jones will play the doghouse bass and Leon Frost will play the mandolin.

“Energetic and fun loving, Tune Town’s love for music is irrepressible. …” a release from the Carter Family Fold said. “Be sure to bring your dancing shoes, and be ready for a night of down-home fun. You can be sure there will be lots of tunes to keep the dancers happy and on the floor. Nothing gets you out of your seat and on the dance floor faster than a rousing old-time band.”

Doors open at 6 p.m. and music begins at 7:30. Admission is $10 for adults, $2 for kids ages 6 to 11; and kids under 6 are free.

The Carter Family Memorial Music Center is a nonprofit organization that serves fans and supporters of old-time country and folk music through the presentation of weekly performances at the venue in Hiltons. It also honors the memory of the first family of country music, the legendary Carter Family (A.P. Carter, Sara Carter, and Maybelle Carter), whose first recordings in 1927 are credited with giving birth to the commercial country music industry. The Carter Family Memorial Music Center was founded by Janette Carter, daughter of A.P. and Sara.

The Carter Family Memorial Music Center is directed by Rita Forrester, daughter of Janette Carter.

The Carter Family Fold is located at 3449 A. P. Carter. For more information and a schedule of events, go to http://www.carterfamilyfold.org/index.html.

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Wise woman sentenced to 16 years for fatal 2020 crash

WISE — A Wise woman who pleaded guilty in connection with a fatal alcohol-related car crash last year will serve 16 years in prison.

Wise County Circuit Court Judge Ron Elkins sentenced Laya Maude Belcher, 61, to 20 years for aggravated involuntary manslaughter and one year on a misdemeanor DUI charge stemming from a Sept. 23, 2020, head-on collision with a vehicle driven by 62-year-old Sharon Dorton of Big Stone Gap.

Dorton died in a Norton hospital after the crash.

Elkins heard testimony from Norton police officers Justin Qualls and Cody Childress, who responded that night to calls of a vehicle traveling north in the southbound lanes of U.S. Route 23 between Big Stone Gap and Norton.

Courtroom benches were filled with several of Dorton’s family members as the officers each testified that they drove their vehicles in each southbound lane to find and block the vehicle before it passed by them and collided with another vehicle.

Qualls testified that he reached Dorton’s vehicle first and saw she was conscious and responding before he went to the vehicle that first passed him because it was smoking.

He said he was able to force open the driver’s door and get Belcher to the back of a police vehicle before returning to Dorton.

Childress, Qualls and Virginia State Trooper Brett Vosburg each testified that Belcher was slurring her speech while responding to their questions at the scene. Vosburg said she refused a field sobriety test but had blood drawn at the hospital that later indicated a blood alcohol level of 0.256 — about three times the state limit for impaired driving.

According to case records, police found an open container of vodka in Belcher’s SUV.

Vosburg and Childress each said Belcher admitted to drinking that night.

Elkins viewed body camera footage from Qualls’ equipment at the scene, where Belcher was recorded asking if anyone was hurt and asking to go home.

Dorton’s older brother, Dan Dorton, and Jason Barber, the husband of one of Sharon Dorton’s nieces, each read statements about her devotion to her nieces and nephews as well as her choice to take care of her mother rather than marry and start her own family.

Dan Dorton called state guidelines for sentencing in cases like Belcher’s “inadequate” and asked Elkins to give her a maximum sentence.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Corey Salyers, in closing statements, said Belcher could have called for a ride but chose to drive that day. He then asked for a 20-year sentence on the manslaughter charge.

Defense lawyer Richard Kennedy asked Elkins to consider Belcher’s family history, with five immediate family members dying from crashes, medical conditions or suicide since she was 11.

“The judge is the only one who can give her a fair sentence,” Kennedy said.

During her statement before sentencing, Belcher cried as she apologized to Dorton’s family.

Responding to Dan Dorton’s statement that she never reached out to the family after the crash, she said, “Not a day that has gone by that I haven’t thought of her. I think about her and I think about you.

“I deserve whatever the judge gives me, OK?” Belcher continued. “I’m really, really sorry.”

Elkins ordered five years of the manslaughter sentenced suspended, with the DUI sentence served consecutively. On Kennedy’s request, Elkins approved a request for Belcher’s treatment in the state Department of Corrections’ therapeutic drug community program in the latter years of her sentence.

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This undated photo shows a clump of irises being divided in New Paltz, New York. Overgrown clumping perennials such as iris can be rejuvenated and brought down to size by dividing the clumps into smaller pieces for planting (and giving away).