By RICK WAGNER
BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s school board soon may vote on a resolution to buy the Bishop property across from the under-construction West Ridge High School.
The land ultimately could be used for an access road for the new campus and, in the meantime, for widening Lynn Road before West Ridge opens in August.
The asking price has grown to $300,000. The Board of Education’s offer for 8.2 acres? Stay tuned for the 6:30 p.m. school board meeting Tuesday, but the chairman said the resolution likely won’t include a purchase amount.
After discussing the matter at a work session Thursday, BOE Chairman Randall Jones said that he would put a resolution to purchase the land on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.
WHAT IF IT IS APPROVED?
If approved by the BOE, the matter then would go to the county commission, which has already turned down such a resolution to use school system fund balance to buy the land.
When asked by board member Michael Hughes why the asking price had increased from $260,000 to $300,000, Jones said he didn’t know. BOE Attorney Pat Hull said the owners, the Bishop heirs, would argue some add-ons or commissions would have made what they received about $300,000.
“Mr. Chairman, we need to own this property. This should have been done a long time ago,” Hughes said, adding that the commission, not the school board, should have bought the land and built the road.
Jones said some commissioners are interested in the school system purchasing the land, beyond the two who sponsored the resolution last time, although Hughes and Vice Chairman Matthew Spivey said they believe it was and is the commission’s responsibility to purchase the land and build the road.
Jones said the city of Kingsport has paved Jericho Drive as far as Waste Management and that it hopefully could hook up to a road across the more than eight acres, a plan originally envisioned by then-Highway Commissioner Jim Belgeri, who later was part of a group that had a purchase option on the land.
Belgeri proposed the basic idea recently, again, but the commission turned down the proposal, which included paying Jericho Partners LLC for the land and to build a road on it. The proposal was amended, and Belgeri said he was open for the school system to have an outright school system purchase. However, the commission turned that down with the only two yes votes coming from the sponsors.
Jones during the work session said he wants to try to find out if an old farm access road is part of the 8.2 acres before Tuesday’s meeting. He said if it is not, the property might not be suitable for an access road after all. Another two-acre tract with a house is under contract to another buyer, Jones said.
The school board has gone back and forth with the commission over the access road for years. Most recently, the Highway Department has worked on widening Lynn Road but has indicated it can’t do so along the Bishop property because of a lack of right-of-way.
In addition, the Bishop heirs sent a cease and desist letter from an attorney in April complaining of water runoff from the school site damaging their property and seeking remediation. Jones said that claim and the right-of-way issue have “muddied” the issue of the school board or commission buying the Bishop property.
After the work session, the board went into executive session, closed to the public, to discuss the letter on behalf of the land owners and other legal matters, as allowed by Tennessee law.
Another plan is to have a driveway for the school hooking up to Henry Harr Road, but officials recently learned there was no way to get that done in time for the Aug. 9 opening of West Ridge.
The more than $65 million school, the consolidation of the Sullivan South, North and Central high schools, is being built for 1,700 students but is expected to have about 1,900 to 2,000 students in its first year of operation.
IF YOU GO
The school board is back to meeting in the first floor meeting room of the health and education building on the Blountville Bypass instead of at schools. It met there in the work session for the first time since February 2020. The address is 154 Blountville Bypass.