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Construction update: Sullivan officials tour West Ridge High
  • Updated

BLOUNTVILLE — What is to be about 290,000 square feet of inside space in the middle of what was a Sullivan County farm field?

If you guessed the new West Ridge High School off Lynn Road, off Exit 63 of Interstate 81, you were right.

County officials, including Mayor Richard Venable, Commissioners Angie Stanley and Gary Stidham, Director of Schools David Cox, and Board of Education members Matthew Spivey, Mark Ireson and Mary Rouse, visited the site on Friday.

Dineen West of Cain Rash West Architects led the tour inside the school, where the front portion is closest to complete.

All of the public officials who participated in the tour indicated they were impressed with the facility.

“This is going to be a state-of- the-art facility,” Stidham said, adding he was impressed by its flexibility to adapt to as-yet unknown future needs and that its football stadium will draw the attention of Interstate 81 traffic on game nights.

“This is going to be the billboard for economic development right here in Sullivan County,” Stidham said.

Venable said all Sullivan Countians, including those living in Bristol and Kingsport, “can be proud of this.”

“I think it’s an amazing facility,” Ireson said. “I like the science labs. The CTE (career technical education) areas are fantastic.”

Spivey, asked his favorite part of the school, said, “All of it.”

“To truly understand how big and modern it is, you have to walk through it,” Spivey said. “It’s so hard to visualize through a piece of paper.”


Here are some facts about West Ridge:

1,450, 1,700 and 2,000:

  • Projected student populations. Although the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association (TSSAA) recently declined the 1,450 estimate for purposes of football classification, bumping West Ridge up to Class 6A, Principal Josh Davis and other school system officials say the projected enrollment in August 2021 is somewhere between 1,900 and 2,000. West said the enrollment projections initially are 1,900 or more but that enrollment in a few years likely will fall to 1,700, which is the designed capacity.

$65 million:

  • That’s what West said is the rough cost of the school, including property and athletic facilities, except for the likely addition of artificial turf on the football and other sports fields. The school is being funded mostly from $60 million in bond money the County Commission approved.

About 567:

  • the projected number of students who can eat at one time in the cafeteria, which will open up into a Learning Commons. West gave that estimate when asked how many students could eat at once, although she said a kiosk on the second floor of the building will provide food at non-lunch or non-breakfast times.


  • the number of career technical or vocation programs available at the school. That doesn’t include a bank that will help teach business students but serve faculty, staff and students with regular banking services.


  • the school’s address, as in 380 Lynn Road. Some commissioners, including Stanley, have long said the curvy, two-lane Lynn Road is not an appropriate main artery to and from the school. Venable said he’d like to see a secondary entrance off Henry Harr Road, even if it were just a gravel road. Tennessee recently completed a study of an extension of Airport Parkway that would improve access to the school, among other things.


  • The new zip code for the school, which almost adjoins the Kingsport city limits but has a Blountville address. It is near the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee, the old Sam’s Wholesale Club building, and a few miles from Tri-Cities Airport and Northeast State Community College, with which the school is to have dual-enrollment programs.


KINGSPORT — Given how 2020 has gone so far, why not make a trip to the Kingsport Civic Auditorium this weekend and get into the Christmas spirit.

Tennessee tops 300,000 COVID-19 cases, reports 64 new deaths

As Tennessee’s total COVID-19 cases exceeded 300,000 on Friday, the daily positive rate of new tests statewide climbed to 14.69%.

In the eight counties of Northeast Tennessee, three additional deaths (one each in Sullivan County, Washington County, and Carter County) and 177 new cases were reported by the Tennessee Department of Health. The region’s pandemic death toll reached 333. The region’s total cases (confirmed, probable, and inactive/recovered, and dead) increased by only 176 to 17,859 because the state adjusted Unicoi County’s case total down by one.

Statewide, 64 more deaths and 3,733 new cases brought Tennessee’s pandemic totals to 3,852 deaths (3,583 confirmed as COVID-19 and 269 probable) and 300,458 cases (280,117 confirmed as COVID-19 and 20,341 probable), with 88% (265,459) listed as “inactive/recovered.”

New cases in Northeast Tennessee, by county: 104 in Sullivan; 28 in Carter; 19 in Washington; 13 in Greene; 10 in Hawkins; and three in Johnson. As noted above, Unicoi County’s cases decreased by one. Zero new cases were reported in Hancock County.

Total cases in Northeast Tennessee, by county: 4,982 in Sullivan; 4,720 in Washington; 2,394 in Greene; 2,166 in Carter; 1,544 in Hawkins; 1,306 in Johnson; 620 in Unicoi; and 127 in Hancock.

Active cases in Northeast Tennessee, by county: 639 in Sullivan; 540 in Washington; 317 in Carter; 305 in Greene; 189 in Hawkins; 94 in Unicoi; 66 in Johnson; and one in Hancock.

Total deaths in Northeast Tennessee, by county: 85 in Washington; 75 in Sullivan; 63 in Greene; 43 in Carter; 31 in Hawkins; 17 in Johnson; 16 in Unicoi; and three in Hancock.

New case numbers were based on 22,774 new test results statewide, compared to the day before, with a positive rate of 14.69%.

The 64 new deaths reported statewide, by age: 30 in the 81-plus group; 15 in the 71-80 group; 12 in the 61-70 group; three in the 51-60 group; two in the 41-50 group; one in the 31-40 group; and one in the 21-30 group.

Northam tightens statewide restrictions as SW Va. has two more deaths

RICHMOND — Virginia residents and businesses will see tighter COVID-19 restrictions starting Sunday as cases and hospitalizations increase.

On Friday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced curbs on gatherings and bar and restaurant alcohol consumption, along with an expanded mask-wearing mandate. Effective midnight Sunday, the number of people allowed at private and public gatherings indoor or outdoor will drop from 250 to 25.

Under the latest action, all state residents age 5 and over are required to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces. That lowers the minimum age from 10 when the mask mandate was ordered May 29.

Northam said businesses now will face class one misdemeanor charges — enforceable by the Virginia Department of Health — if they do not conform to state emergency orders on physical distancing, mask-wearing and enhanced cleaning.

On-site alcohol sales will be prohibited after 10 p.m., Northam said. That curfew and a midnight closing time will apply to restaurants, food courts or other dining establishments, bars, breweries, distilleries, wineries and microbreweries.

Northam said that, while Southwest Virginia has seen a spike in cases and hospitalizations compared to other regions, the new restrictions are a reaction to rising case rates, hospitalizations and positive COVID-19 test rates in all regions.

Far Southwest Virginia saw more than 40 new COVID-19 cases and two deaths, according to Friday’s state COVID-19 data report.

The Virginia Department of Health (www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus) reported that the state had 1,235 new cases and 27 additional deaths in the prior 24 hours for pandemic totals of 199,262 cases and 3,785 deaths.

The LENOWISCO Health District accounted for 42 cases and two deaths for totals of 2,336 and 34 deaths during the pandemic. Wise County had 26 cases and one death for totals of 979 and 13 deaths. Scott County saw 10 cases and one death for 589 and 10 deaths.

Lee County added six cases for 706 and 11 deaths, while Norton remained at 62 cases and no deaths.

The statewide testing rate for people with nasal swab and antigen tests in Friday’s VDH report was 3,099,913 of 8.63 million residents, or 35.92%. For nasal swab testing only, 2,864,009 people have been tested to date, or 33.2%. In the LENOWISCO district, 21,317 of the region’s 86,471 residents have been tested via nasal swab sample for COVID-19, or 24.65%.

Pandemic-wide testing rates by locality were:

• Lee County, 6,681 of 23,423, or 28.52%

• Norton, 2,054 of 3,981, or 51.6%

• Wise County, 7,943 of 37,383, or 21.25%

• Scott County, 4,639 of 21,566, or 21.51%

Red Onion State Prison remained at 20 inmate cases and dropped to no active staff/contractor cases, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap remained at no inmate cases and two active staff/contractor cases. Wise Correctional Center near Coeburn remained at 16 inmate cases and one active staff case.

According to the VDH’s weekly school outbreak dashboard, an outbreak at Gate City Middle School in Scott County remains in progress with an unspecified number of students and staff affected. An outbreak at Union Primary School in Wise County remains pending closing with an unspecified number of students and staff affected.

The seven-day average rate of positive PCR test results in the LENOWISCO district in Friday’s report rose from 13% to 13.4%. The statewide positivity rate remained at 6.5%.

According to Friday’s VDH pandemic measures dashboard, cases in the far southwest region of Virginia — including the LENOWISCO Health District — were ranked as rising after a 53-day increase in cases. The far southwest region ranking for percent positivity of COVID-19 testing results remained increasing based on a 33-day increase in that measure.

All four school systems in the LENOWISCO district — Wise, Lee and Scott counties and Norton — were ranked as highest-risk based on the 14-day case incidence rate in the district. Wise County Schools were ranked highest-risk for percent change in seven-day case incidences. Lee and Scott counties were ranked lowest-risk, and Norton schools ranked lower-risk.

Where to be tested

Do you think you might have COVID-19? Local health departments provide free testing.

The LENOWISCO Health Department, which covers Norton and Lee, Wise and Scott counties, posts regular updates on testing sites across the district and offers free COVID-19 tests at its county offices. Those seeking a test must call in advance for an appointment. Contact numbers for the county offices are:

• Lee County (Jonesville) — (276) 346-2011

• Scott County (Gate City) — (276) 386-1312

• Wise County and Norton (Wise) — (276) 328-8000

Additional testing and COVID-19 precaution information can be found at the LENOWISCO Health District’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Lenowisco.

The Health Wagon will partner with the Virginia Department of Health to offer 17 sessions of free drive-thru testing at Food City in St. Paul through Dec. 31. Call (276) 328-8850 to schedule an appointment.

In Southwest Virginia, online resources are available to help evaluate whether residents might be infected and where to get a COVID-19 test.

The Virginia Department of Health’s COVIDCHECK (https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covidcheck/) can walk a user through symptoms they may be experiencing and help direct them to their local health department office or other available testing sites.

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