Sullivan school board votes to sell surplus schools

Rick Wagner • Mar 6, 2020 at 9:31 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — The former Bluff City Middle School may become a not-for-profit hub of activity in Sullivan County’s smallest city, according to plans a Piney Flats man has for the property that was originally Bluff City High School.

Sullivan County’s school board voted Thursday night to move forward with sealed-bid auctions on three former school properties the board declared surplus last month, although details and potential ownership claims by the county government have yet to be worked out. The school system is under no obligation to accept the highest bid or any bid on the properties.

The seven-member board voted 4-3 to move forward with the sale of Holston Valley Middle in the far eastern end of the county after a motion by Mark Ireson to delay the vote a month failed in a 3-4 vote. The votes on selling the former Bluff City Middle, the old Holston Institute and the Holston Institute ball field near Tri-Cities Airport were 7-0. At least four sections of the Bluff City Middle property are deeded to the county, although school board attorney Pat Hull said the argument could be made they were purchased and paid for to be used by the school system.

An online survey that ran Feb. 21-March 1 found more community support for using Bluff City and Holston Valley Middle for community events and activities, although one for Holston Institute narrowly favored the property being sold to private concerns and being put back on the property tax rolls.


Chris Laisure, owner of Business Information Systems in Piney Flats, Thursday night presented the Board of Education a plan for up to six not-for-profit groups to use the property he proposes to buy. Board Vice Chairman Randall Jones and Ireson said the programs proposed would be a tremendous asset for Bluff City and eastern Sullivan County.

The six not-for-profit groups are:

Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which would use part of the building for training of coaches.

Good Samaritan, now based in Johnson City, which would use part of the property for food programs and to give out rent and other money payments, as well as provide counseling, abortion alternatives counseling, a backpack ministry, summer feeding and Thanksgiving and Christmas food programs.

Children’s Inc., now based near the school, to use the football field and gym for children’s athletic activities.

Vessels of Honor Ministries, a crusade program based in Johnson City to use part of the property to train missionaries and teach about its activities. 

A not-for-profit involving Bluff City resident Betsy Carrier in the old stone building on the school property, which Laisure plans to renovate and get into shape as a historic site before turning it over to the group; and 

The Junior Patriots athletic program, which is to move from using Sullivan East High School’s football field to using Bluff City’s field. The football program has 70 football players and 20 cheerleaders, but Laisure said the program would expand into basketball, too.


The board voted 4-3 to have a sealed-bid auction for the old Holston Middle property, too, with Chairman Michael Hughes, Jones, Randall Gilmore and Matthew Spivey voting yes and Ireson, Jane Thomas and Paul Robinson voting no. The vote before that on Ireson’s motion to delay a motion was flipped the other way, 3-4.

Ireson said he wanted time for a community proposal like the Bluff City one to come forward, but Hughes said the school system was having to heat and cool the properties, and Hull and Spivey said it would take awhile to get the properties advertised for sealed bids. In addition, ownership of some of the Bluff City property and Holston Valley property is in the name of Sullivan County instead of the school board, and the Holston Institute property includes parcels that say it reverts to heirs of the original donators if it ceases to be a school.

The votes on the Holston Institute property, split into the part with the buildings and the ball fields, both were 7-0.

County Mayor Richard Venable and County Commissioners Dwight King and Herschel Glover have questioned the school board selling the properties, especially the ones not listing the school board as owners, and Venable has questioned the reversion clause on the Holston Institute property.

However, the board decided that details of the sale, including any county claims, would be worked out by the Executive Committee of Director of Schools David Cox and Hughes. Hull, during a work session before the meeting, said some deed restrictions may be so old they are no longer enforceable and the school board would offer a quit-claim deed, not a warranty deed, to buyers.



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