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Sullivan survey seeks input on future of three surplus schools

Rick Wagner • Feb 28, 2020 at 12:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — If you’ve got an idea or opinion on the future use of three surplus Sullivan County schools and their campuses, now’s your chance to provide input.

The school system has an online Retirement of Facilities survey on the future of the old Holston Institute and its ball fields, Bluff City Middle School and Holston Valley Middle, all of which the Board of Education declared surplus during its Feb. 6 meeting. The survey went live Feb. 21. Responses are requested by Sunday, March 1, and the survey is reachable through a link on the school system website at sullivank12.net/.

In addition, Director of Schools David Cox and BOE Vice Chairman Randall Jones said emails and written comments will be accepted. Also, the matter will be on the agenda of the Thursday, March 5 board meeting starting at 6:30 p.m. in the first-floor meeting room of the health and education building at 154 Blountville Bypass.

Public comment on the issue will take place near the start of the meeting, rather than at its end, where remarks on non-agenda items are heard.

Jones said he’s heard that at least one proposal for a surplus school might be presented that night. Cox said the board would get a summary of the survey results that Thursday, too.

The BOE voted to declare Bluff City and Holston Valley as surplus and voted to declare Holston Institute surplus with the intention of selling it, although some Sullivan County officials have wanted to either slow down the sales to check on deed restrictions and reversion clauses and/or have the Sullivan County Commission, not the school system, dispose of the properties and get any sales revenue from them.

WHAT DOES THE SURVEY ASK?

For each of the three properties, the survey gives three multiple choice options and one fill-in-the-blank option.They are:

“My preference would be to see the building and property sold for private or business use and placed on the tax rolls to generate county revenues.”

“My preference would be to see the building and property used for community events and activities, managed by a third party or a nonprofit organization.”

“My preference would be to see the structures torn down and the land sold.”

“Other — Write In”

WHAT ARE THE ISSUES?

One of the deeds for Bluff City Middle lists Sullivan County, not the school board, system or department, as the owner. And parts of the property at the Holston Institute have a reversion clause that says if the property ceases to be used for education purposes it would revert to the heirs of the past owners, while another clause does the same for a Masonic lodge that once met on the property.

School board attorney Pat Hull has said the school system would give a quit claim deed to the Holston Institute property, which simply would transfer any interest the school system has in it to a buyer, not a warranty deed that would guarantee full ownership rights. In the past, he has said a court could be petitioned to void or waive such revision clauses. He also said the Masonic lodge disbanded and its members joined one in Bluff City, and they no longer use part of the facility as a meeting place.

BOE Chairman Michael Hughes has asked Hull to research the ownership of all the school parcels, the same request County Mayor Richard Venable has made of County Attorney Dan Street. Street recently said school systems can buy, own and sell property in Tennessee, although up until recently the school board would declare school properties surplus and then turn them over to Sullivan County.

“That’s up to the legal people to read the deeds and advise us on that,” Jones said.”You’ve got the question of who did all the maintenance on it. The answer to that would be the school system.”

Venable has said the deed reversions need to be enforced and that Northeast State Community College would be the most sensible user and owner of the Holston Institute property. County Commissioners Herschel Glover and Dwight King have said they’d like to see Bluff City Middle become a community center or other entity helping the community and that the commission, not the school board, should sell the property and get the revenue.