BLOUNTVILLE — The former Colonial Heights Middle School property could be the new home of Tri-Cities Christian Academy by this time next year, thanks to an about-face by the Sullivan County Board of Education.
Or maybe Kingsport City Schools or another buyer could end up with the site. The bottom line is that the building will be sold as is rather than be demolished.
Community support for Lakeway Christian Schools, which operates TCCA, to buy the county school that closed in May 2021 was among factors that changed the minds of school board members, BOE Chairman Randall Jones said, although member Mark Ireson’s motion to negotiate directly with Lakeway for a purchase failed in a 3-4 vote at the board’s Thursday night meeting.
Mike Hale, who lives near the campus, spoke in favor of a Lakeway purchase, as did County Commissioner Angie Stanley and Ireson.
A group of people who live in the neighborhood also attended to show their support for Lakeway getting the property but did not speak.
The BOE voted 7-0 to remove a no-school-use restriction from the school deed it added early this year.
In other action, the board voted to hire the Tennessee School Boards Association for $6,500 to find the next director of schools to replace Evelyn Rafalowski, who is retiring next year.
In addition, it reviewed $25 million worth of renovation projects for three schools that would be funded, at least in part, by ESSER (Emergency Secondary Schools Emergency Relief) funds.
SHIP DIDN’T SAIL AFTER ALL
“It’s not exactly what we wanted, but it’s better than what we had,” Lakeway Christian President Bob Brown said after the meeting, thanking Hale and other Colonial Heights residents for their support. “We thought that ship had sailed.”
Brown said the 1950s building has “good bones” but needs HVAC and roofing work. Next fall, if the private school wins the online bidding, he said the building likely would become a grades pre-K-12 facility for Tri-Cities Christian in August 2023 and eventually would become a pre-K-5 facility when the new Tri-Cities Christian Middle and High school opens just off Exit 56 of Interstate 81 near Tri-Cities Crossing.
As for the existing grades 3-12 Tri-Cities Christian site in Blountville near Tri-Cities Airport and the newly opened pre-K-2 site in the former Boones Creek United Methodist Church, Brown said the new high/middle school will be much nicer than the existing school and that the Boone’s Creek site is not as suited to be a school as is the Colonial Heights site.
Jones last month proposed demolishing Colonial Heights and Sullivan middle schools. After Thursday’s meeting, he said Sullivan Middle was not addressed because more information is needed before the school board considers its fate.
IRESON’S AMENDMENT FAILED
Ireson tried to amend Jones’ motion for the school system to negotiate with Lakeway using a state law saying that property involved with vocational programs could be sold by negotiation rather than by public auction, sealed bids, internet auction or through a real estate agent.
Voting for the motion were Ireson, Matthew Price and Paul Robinson, while Jones, Mary Rouse, Matthew Spivey and Michael Hughes voted against it.
Afterward, Spivey and Jones said that section of the law applies to houses that vocational classes build to be sold to homeowners, not to former school buildings like Colonial Heights that never even had vocational classes, much less built homes.
Board attorney Pat Hull said that attorneys the system has consulted have different opinions on the matter, but his view is that selling the property via the internet would avoid potential litigation.
SPIVEY’S AMENDMENT APPROVED
“If we let the city go in there, we’re going to lose a lot of kids,” Robinson said, after which Spivey said the school system usually reserves the right to reject any or all bids. That amendment was approved 7-0 before the board passed the final resolution 7-0.
The motion declares the property surplus, removes a prohibition against school use, but leaves the original deed restriction allowing only residential or school use, and calls for an internet auction to go to the highest bidder unless the school board rejects “any or all bids.”
With an online bid, Jones said the board wouldn’t explicitly know what the high bidder’s plans were for the property, which is in the Kingsport city limits and thus has city zoning. Ireson said if Kingsport put an elementary school there that took 200 county elementary students, in one year that would wipe out $2 million in revenue since each student represents nearly $10,000 in state revenue.
Brown after the meeting said he understood that logic, but he noted Tri-Cities Christian draws students from across the region, from Bristol to Greeneville and into Southwest Virginia, and that any enrollment losses for Sullivan County would be small.
Kingsport Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse and city school board President Melissa Woods attended the meeting, sitting on the same row as the Lakeway Christian representatives but not addressing the board. Then-Chairman Jim Welch last year indicated Kingsport City Schools would have interest in the site.