BLOUNTVILLE — The first week of West Ridge High School is in the history books.

And interim Sullivan County Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski said a big takeaway for her is that students at “the Ridge” are happy to be back in actual classrooms again.

The school of more than 2,000 students marked its fifth day on Friday, also a day that saw the systemwide enrollment at about 8,600, Rafalowski told the Sullivan County Finance Committee Friday morning.

“Today was the first day all the students were there,” Rafalowski said, referring to a staggered start where about half the student body attended each day, seniors and juniors Monday and Wednesday and sophomores and freshmen Tuesday and Thursday.

“Students are excited to be back to school. That was a big plus this week,” Rafalowski told the committee. “It’s been a good week and we are happy to have our students back.”

Rafalowski said the school system will work to make sure students will continue in-person learning instead of going back to virtual instruction as in the past because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Sullivan County Schools and other systems in the Tri-Cities have no mask mandate in effect, although the Centers for Disease Control and Ballad Health (in a statement released Friday directed at the Johnson City school system) and other health agencies and groups recommend masks in schools.

The Sullivan County system has 15 schools, including the new West Ridge, the newly converted Sullivan Central Middle (formerly Sullivan Central High) and Sullivan Heights Middle (formerly Sullivan South High).

A ribbon cutting for West Ridge is set for 9 a.m. on Wednesday at the Ridge Walk leading to the football stadium, and the event will be moved into the gym in case of rain. The first home football game will be against Science Hill on Sept. 3.

Rafalowski told the committee several tasks remain to be completed, including some carpet laying; drape installation; and work on the football stadium, which has artificial turf, and athletic fields with live grass.

In addition, a portion of the parking area is not yet paved, although she said she counted only about 20 student vehicles in that unpaved area and 70 vacant paved spots elsewhere.

“We don’t have a parking issue at this time at West Ridge,” Rafalowski said.

She said the unpaved area will be paved after the site is completely turned over to the school system by the construction companies.

In addition, she said some construction trailers will be removed when that happens, opening up additional parking spaces.

In the past, she has recalled that Sullivan North High had an unpaved student parking area when it opened in 1980. North, Sullivan South and Sullivan Central were merged into West Ridge.

As for access to the campus and its parking, Rafalowski said a review of the first week indicates the school needs a planned gravel driveway off Henry Harr Road leading into the site, which has only one entrance off Lynn Road.

“One hundred percent we need that access road. We feel like it is a real key to that campus,” Rafalowski said of a project now in the design process.

Meanwhile, the school system Monday is to close on the $300,000 purchase of 8.8 acres, the Bishop property across from the school’s entrance. That land may be used for a road linking West Ridge to state Route 357 via an extension of Jericho Road to the school entrance on Lynn Road, which the Sullivan County Highway Department has improved.

Staff Writer J.H. Osborne contributed to this article.

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