BLOUNTVILLE —The Sullivan County Commission and Sullivan County School Board continue to work toward getting improved access to the county’s under-construction high school off Interstate 81 near the Airport Parkway exit.
The school board is set to meet in a called session Monday to try and iron out a proposal that resolves concerns about the board’s initial proposal to accomplish that goal before West Ridge High School opens in August.
That proposal, discussed at four different meetings last week on the commission side of things, would improve and widen Jericho Drive from State Route 357 (that’s what Airport Parkway becomes on the side of I-81 where the new school is being built) and create a new extension to link Jericho Drive to the main entrance to the West Ridge Campus on Lynn Road.
The extension would go across land that is privately owned. Former Sullivan County Highway Commissioner Jim Belgeri has an option to purchase the land. The board’s initial proposal ultimately came to be described as a “purchase contract” for that eight-acre tract — with the new road completed by a limited liability corporation called Jericho Partners.
Last week that plan received “no action” votes from the commission’s administrative, executive, and education committees. Of major concern: County Attorney Dan Street said the plan is illegal as it basically provides an end-run around state laws requiring the bidding process.
School Board Chairman Randall Jones said he accepted Street’s legal expertise and the school board would work to develop an alternative that is acceptable to the commission.
Jones said Belgeri has assured him he will sell the school board his option on the land. Street said the proper way for the project to move forward is for the county to obtain the land and then put the road construction project out to bid. Jones indicated the school board is willing to pursue that, with its main goal being to get the project underway and completed by August if at all possible.
On Thursday, the commission’s monthly agenda included the draft resolution — for the “purchase contract” concept — that got the “no action” votes from the three committees earlier in the week. The commission instead approved what is called a caption resolution, stating it would support the school board in development of an option that does not circumvent the legally required bidding process. It is understood, based on discussion at all of last week’s meetings, that the county school system will use reserve funds to purchase the land. The cost of the road construction will likely be covered by a bond issue. The school board’s initial proposal asked for a rural bond issue that would be paid off with a portion of the county school system’s share of local sales tax revenues.