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Surplus schools: Sullivan school system in the real estate business?

BLOUNTVILLE — Today’s Sullivan County Schools lesson is spelled s-u-r-p-l-u-s, and the class is Real Estate Sales/Wheeling and Dealing 101.

When it comes to disposing of old school buildings or other properties no longer used, Sullivan County education officials are going to be busy soon, declaring schools and their campuses as surplus real estate and disposing of them.

After reshufflings prompted by the pending opening of West Ridge High School on Aug. 9, four school or multi-school campuses are being retired in May: Blountville Middle/Elementary, Colonial Heights Middle, Sullivan North High/Middle (already to be repurposed by Kingsport), and the middle school portion of Sullivan Gardens K-8.

J. H. / J.H. Osborne 

Blountville Elementary School front view.


Former front hall entrance of Blountville High School, now part of Blountville Middle.

Also in the mix is property near Tri-Cities Airport, the old Holston Institute used for storage and last used as Holston Middle in 1980, as well as about two acres from an old school on the eastern end of the county — in addition to other properties possibly to be declared surplus after having sat unused for decades or that are being used for non-school purposes.

Rick / J.H. Osborne - josborne@timesnews.net 

This a a view of the old Holston Institute property near Tri-Cities Airport. Some ball field property already has been sold at sealed-bid auction; up next is the campus including the buildings. 

Removing two properties still being used for something, that makes for 11 properties total (counting Blountville as one) that could be declared surplus in the coming months and years.

Kingsport bought the Sullivan North campus for the new Sevier Middle School, to open in the fall of 2023, but the other schools’ fates remains unknown. However, the Blountville properties have drawn the most interest so far.


County Commissioner Dwight King and Board of Education Chairman Randall Jones are discussing the possibility of trading the Blountville schools and campus to the county in exchange for land and an access road to West Ridge, off Exit 63 of Interstate 81. The school board has authorized getting an appraisal on the Blountville property as a starting point.

The soon-to-be vacant Blountville schools had spurred interest as a potential jail expansion site, a proposal voiced by King. However, Jones emphasized the BOE policy is that after the board determines a school system-owned property is not needed for school system use and is to be surplussed, it approaches the county to gauge any interest.

If the county is interested, it can buy or trade for the property. If not, Jones said the school system would sell it via either sealed bid or live auction. Normally the highest bidder would win, but the school system reserves the right to reject any and all bids.

“We have no say-so over what it’s used for if the county buys it,” Jones said.


Jones said the Blountville and Colonial Heights middle schools likely are worth much more than any schools the system has declared surplus and sold in the past, and Blountville is drawing high interest.

The middle school was built as Blountville High and opened in 1932 with later renovations and additions. The elementary opened in 1952 with later renovations. Colonial Heights opened in 1957 as a junior high and became a middle school in 1980.

The school board at its April meeting voted to instruct BOE Attorney Pat Hull to move forward with getting an appraisal of the Blountville school buildings and nearly 30 acres. Jones said the two sites each possibly could be worth seven figures.


Christopher Laisure, owner of Business Information Systems Inc. in Piney Flats, bought the former Bluff City and Holston Valley middle schools and is turning them into community centers. He paid $190,000 for Bluff City and $120,000 for Holston Valley.

Laisure has expressed interest in doing the same conversion for the Blountville schools after local residents rallied against King’s idea of turning the property into the new jail expansion, something King said at the April commission meeting simply doesn’t have enough support.

Other uses could include county office space, county storage or an expansion of the Sullivan County Library.

Also, Jerome Williams of Johnson City has told the county commission and school board chairman he’d like to turn part of the buildings into a film school and studio as part of a community center.

“I have had some people contact me about wanting to purchase some buildings,” Jones said of the soon-to-be vacant properties. “I told them we will make that decision, it will be addressed, after we open the new schools.”

Aside from West Ridge High, the existing Sullivan Central High and Sullivan South High will become, respectively, Sullivan Central Middle and Sullivan Heights Middle. Blountville Elementary students will be moved mostly to the Holston Elementary/Middle complex, with fewer than 50 to Central Heights Elementary, and Holston Middle, Innovation Academy and Blountville Middle will move to Central Middle.

Board member Michael Hughes said he’s been impressed with Laisure’s conversion of Bluff City Middle and Holston Valley Middle facilities into community centers.

Other currently operating school buildings no longer to be used as schools after May are Colonial Heights Middle and Sullivan Gardens Middle. The Colonial Heights Middle students, along with those from the middle school portion of Sullivan Gardens K-8, will move to Sullivan Heights along with former Sullivan North Middle students.(tncms-asset)d035853f-92d5-5487-a4e9-333e0eabb13e[3](/tncms-asset)

File photo 

This is how Sullivan Gardens Middle, the grades 6-8 portion of Sullivan Gardens K-8, looks today. It will be closed forever as a school in May. 

Colonial Heights, which opened in 1957, is in the middle of a residential area and could be used for residential purposes or a community center, although it has a leaky roof. The board chose not to seek an appraisal of it at the same time as the Blountville schools.

Sullivan Gardens Middle School dates to 1931 and is adjacent to Sullivan Gardens Elementary, built later. Jones said the close proximity makes disposing of it the most difficult of the soon-to-be vacant facilities.


The schools closing in May are not all the potentially surplus county school properties available. Work is ongoing, and has been for years, to dispose of the old Holston Institute property near Tri-Cities Airport. The ball fields already have been sold by sealed bid. The school system and county use buildings on the property for storage, and it once housed a Masonic lodge that has since disbanded. Hull has been working to get the remaining property ready for formal board action.

Hull also in April started working on a list of up to nine other “possible” surplus properties, although board members at the April school board meeting narrowed that list to seven by taking off the former Akard School near Bristol, being used for warehouse and office space, and the Sullivan Middle School athletic fields.

The board instructed Hull to move forward with finding out the true ownership status and use of the list of possible surplus properties, as well as an appraisal for the Blountville schools.

The seven include:

• Arcadia School on Bloomingdale Road. The county highway department is storing salt there, and in the past officials have said the title to that property was moved to the county.

• Some foundation and about two acres of the old Paperville School on School Lane near Bristol.

• The old Buffalo School on Beaver Creek Road near Blountville.

• The former Sunrise School property at 2024 Hickory Tree Road near Bristol.

• A small piece of property across from the former Bluff City Middle School on James Avenue in Bluff City.

• The old Temple Star School property on Temple Star Road in the Sullivan Gardens community.

• Vacant land across from Mary Hughes Elementary School on North Austin Springs Road in Piney Flats.

Watch now: Closing of Blountville schools prompts motorcycle tales, Memory Walks

BLOUNTVILLE — Blountville Elementary and Blountville Middle will close forever as schools on May 20.

A local history book indicates that will mark the first time in more than 200 years that no school will operate in the Sullivan County seat of government.

A public school built by Sullivan County has operated in the town for at least 100 years. This year is the 100th anniversary of the first Blountville grades 1-12 school funded by the county from the ground up on what is today Franklin Drive.

When Blountville Middle — formerly Blountville High and Blountville Junior High — closes, so will a former Blountville High hallway down which then-student and future state Rep. Clarence Blackburn and a friend rode a motorcycle.

A seemingly unflappable principal followed close behind, admonishing them gently but firmly to cease and desist. Or so Blackburn’s daughter, Leslie Blackburn Carr, has been told — since nothing about that ride is in the history book.

After college, Blackburn taught in that building, where his daughter attended junior high and returned to teach. After it closes, she will transfer to Sullivan Central Middle, which will be housed where Sullivan Central High, her alma mater, is located.

More on the motorcycle story later. First, an abbreviated history of schools in Blountville:


According to “Adventures in Education, Sullivan County, 1773-1983,” written by retired teacher Thelma Gray Barnes and published in 1985, aside from schools just outside downtown Blountville in the late 1700s, the first school in the town proper came after the General Assembly in 1806 authorized the Jefferson Academy.

It was followed by a Female Academy in 1837 before, the book states, General Assembly action in 1873 caused free public schools to be built through Sullivan County and all of Tennessee.

The old Female Academy eventually became the Blountville Masonic Institute, according to the book, and in 1921, the Blountville School, for grades 1-12, opened downtown. That was followed a decade later by the 1931 construction start of the new Blountville High School (now Blountville Middle), which opened in 1932.

Additions came throughout the years, and in 1968 it became Blountville Junior High with the opening of the new Sullivan Central High off Exit 66 of Interstate 81. In 1980, Blountville Junior High became Blountville Middle.

Blountville Elementary, which had been housed in the original two-story Blountville school after the new high school opened, was built in 1951 next to Blountville High and occupied in 1952. Over the years, renovations included a joint cafeteria to serve the two schools.

Folks who attended Sullivan County Board of Education meetings in the late 1980s or early 1990s will remember the two-story white building on Franklin Drive that housed the central office until the health and education building, current home of the central office, opened in 1994.

The 1921 Blountville School was torn down after the new central office was built, but you can still go down the hall where Blackburn may have ridden the motorcycle or where you used to walk as a Blountville student.


Carr said she’s been told that her late father, who graduated from Blountville High in 1954, and his friend Don Millsap used a motorcycle in a play performed in the auditorium.

“They had borrowed his (Millsap’s) father’s motorcycle for the play,” Carr said. “After the play, apparently they jumped on it and rode down the main hallway here.”

Close behind them was Principal Paul Anderson, who Carr said was quoted as saying something like, “Now boys, you can’t ride that motorcycle inside.”

Carr said Anderson, known as “Mr. Paul,” was a soft-spoken but respected principal.

On the back of $40 commemorative plates, which will be sold as a fundraiser, with a vintage photo of the school on the front will be a quote from Mr. Paul: “Be somebody.”

Carr’s father, among other things, went on to teach at the school and later served three terms as a state representative. Another student, Allen Jones, became a veterinarian after Anderson allowed him to leave school each Friday to help a veterinarian track animals at a cattle auction. Call it a real-world internship.

“There were a lot of students who went here and went on to be successful because of Mr. Paul,” Carr said recently while going through memorabilia that will be offered at the school Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m.

Carr and retiring Assistant Principal Earl Millard said they were put in charge of the memorabilia sale and open house this weekend since both attended the schools and knew much of their history.


Both Blountville schools will hold Memory Walks from 2 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Any former students or community members who want to walk the school halls and reminisce may attend. Commemorative items are being made, including the $40 plates to be ordered, and proceeds from those will benefit the Blountville Community Chest.

The memorabilia sales will help the athletic or band programs at Sullivan Central Middle, where students in Blountville Middle’s zone will be moved.

In addition, the Blountville High Class of 1968 — the last to graduate from the school — had a parking lot reunion at the school on Saturday.

Blountville Middle is at 1651 Blountville Blvd., just before the Sullivan County Public Library. Follow the entrance and administration signs to the middle school entry.

Volunteers help Keep Kingsport Beautiful by collecting trash from Greenbelt


KINGSPORT — Jim Sell, carrying a black, five-gallon bucket in one hand and what might have appeared to be the proverbial 10-foot-pole in the other worked his way back and forth along the banks of Reedy Creek.

It was beautiful weather as he did so Saturday morning and the Greenbelt — Sell was following the linear park’s path near East Stone Commons off North Eastman Road — was busy. Many people walked briskly. Others biked. A little girl learned to go “birding” with her first set of binoculars. There were dogs on leashes, ducks in and out of the water, and even a few deer grazing

“Someone asked me what I’m trying to catch,” Sell said with a laugh.

He wasn’t just trying. He was doing. He was “catching” trash.

And so went Keep Kingsport Beautiful’s annual cleanup event for that section of the park. Volunteers are needed for similar events throughout Kingsport each Saturday this month.

Sell was just one of the volunteers who searched the creek, walkways, woods and wetlands along that stretch of the Greenbelt, seeking out and removing trash. But he had the most attention-getting gear.

Most of the trash they removed was plastic or paper containers. But there were also a couple of bicycle frames, and at least two abandoned tires were spotted in the creek, their positions reported to city work crews for removal.

“It was a beautiful day and we appreciate and thank all the volunteers who came out,” Keep Kingsport Beautiful Executive Director Sharon Hayes said. “Their efforts helped with the continued beautification of this public space, which improves the Greenbelt experience for us all. We have more cleanup events coming this month, and we invite everyone to come out and help keep Kingsport beautiful.”

Upcoming Keep Kingsport Beautiful cleanup events are:

• May 8 — Greenbelt West End (meet near Rotherwood bridge).

• May 15 — South Central (meet at the Splash Pad shelter).

• May 22 — Interchange of Stone Drive and John B. Dennis Highway (meet at Honda Kingsport).

• May 29 — Lynn Garden (meet at Lynn View Community Center parking lot).

All cleanups will be from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Trash bags, gloves and trash grabbers will be available along with safety vests.

Volunteers are needed to pick up trash, remove debris and help with beautification efforts. Civic, school and church organizations, Scout troops, businesses, families and individuals are encouraged to be part of one or all of these events. The cleanup efforts are opportunities for students who are looking for community service hours for honors programs and scholarship requirements, particularly Tennessee Promise and TN/VA Scholars students.

The events are part of the nationwide Keep America Beautiful Great American Cleanup program.

Cleanup sponsors are BAE Systems, Ballad, Domtar, Eastman Credit Union, Honda Kingsport and Republic Services.

Keep Kingsport Beautiful is a partnership of the city of Kingsport and the Kingsport Chamber. An affiliate of Keep America Beautiful and Keep Tennessee Beautiful, Keep Kingsport Beautiful has won more than 70 national, state and environmental awards. Its mission is to involve the community in responsible solutions for a clean and beautiful environment.

For more information, contact Sharon Hayes at shayes@kingsportchamber.org or call (423) 392-8814.