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Sullivan school board declares three schools, ball field as surplus property

Rick Wagner • Feb 6, 2020 at 11:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s school board has set the wheels in motion for disposing of three school system properties no longer in use as schools, although the vote on declaring Bluff City Middle School generated debate and discussion and resulted in two split votes by the seven-member board.

In other words, the same school board that was split on building the just-opened Sullivan East Middle School and the West Ridge High School to open in August of 2021 is again split. This disagreement is over the timing of declaring one of the middle school buildings surplus after East Middle opened.

The Sullivan County Board of Education Thursday night voted to declare the old Holston Institute property, the Holston ball field, Bluff City Middle School and Holston Valley Middle School as surplus property, with the Holston Institute and Holston ball field having the added words “commence process for sale.”

The Bluff City vote was 4-3, with Chairman Michael Hughes, Vice Chairman Randall Jones and members Randall Gilmore and Matthew Spivey voting yes and Mark Ireson, Jane Thomas and Paul Robinson voting no. Right before that vote, Ireson’s motion to table the Bluff City declaration for a month failed 3-4 in the reverse of the vote on the original motion.The vote on the other three properties was 7-0.

FOR SALE?

Initially, all four properties had “sale” language but Jones struck those words from the Bluff City and Holston Valley votes after Ireson asked to table the Bluff City vote for a month. Chairman Michael Hughes said the board’s policy on disposing of buildings required they first be declared as surplus and that the school system then seek professional help and survey the community for input before deciding what to do with the buildings and how to do it. However, Hughes said it was likely all would be sold.

Jones said the exact language is “professional advice and community input” and that if the surplus declaration was delayed a month, so would that professional help and input. Hughes said those might take another one,two, three or more months.

WHAT WAS PUBLIC COMMENT ON THE MATTER?

Sullivan County Commissioner Herschel Glover, Bluff City area resident Jack Hurlbert and Betsy Carrier of Bluff City suggested the school board slow down talk of selling the middle school, with Glover saying the county, not the school system, may be the legal owner of one of the four middle school parcels based on deed language.

Hurlbert said he believed nonprofits or other buyers that would benefit Bluff City should have first crack at the property, which includes the old Bluff City High School gym. Commissioners Glover and Dwight King outside the meeting said they had heard and drawn the interest of someone wanting to use the property for an athletics operation.

Carrier said she just wants the best use of the facility that would help the city.

Hughes said he wants the use of the Bluff City building to benefit the city as much as anybody. He emphasized the school system is not obliged to take the highest bid or any bid and that he believes the board will seek to benefit the community and put restriction uses on the property.

WHAT ARE OTHER POTENTIAL ISSUES?

Hughes said he is afraid delaying the declaration of any of the properties as surplus could kill interest by potential buyers. He said that already has happened with the Holston Institute property while a title search was conducted. In addition, he said heating and cooling the two middle schools, which are 144,000 square feet combined, will take money from school system coffers. Bluff City and Holston Valley were last in use as schools in December, but Holston, used for storage of county and school system items, was last used as a middle school almost 40 years ago in 1980. Parts of it are near collapse, Hull said. .

Ireson said he wanted to avoid the impression of a “rubber stamp” on selling the Bluff City school property to a chosen individual, company or group. “For at least four years, we’ve known this night was coming,” Hughes said.

“All we would be doing tonight is taking that first step to declare it surplus property,” board attorney Pat Hull said during the meeting. “All we’re doing is we are declaring it for surplus. Then you can do whatever you want to do after that.”