J.J. Kelly off the table as county services building

Mike Still • May 16, 2020 at 8:45 PM

WISE — A yearlong process to make the former J.J. Kelly High School building a Wise County community services facility came to a stop Thursday.

The Wise County Board of Supervisors voted 8-0 to have County Administrator Mike Hatfield start the process to advertise for demolition of Kelly, the former Pound High School and the former jail next to the county courthouse.

The vote also included having Hatfield consult with county Department of Social Services officials about a site to construct a new building for that department. Social Services moved into temporary quarters in April 2019 at the former Sykes Enterprises building in the Lonesome Pine Technology Park because of deteriorating conditions at its former Coeburn Mountain Road facility.

District 1 Supervisor Bobby Cassell made the motion for Thursday’s action after Hatfield asked the board how to proceed on plans for the Kelly site.

In a slide presentation, Hatfield outlined an estimated cost for new or renovated separate facilities for the school board central office, Social Services, Health Department, Lonesome Pine Office on Youth and moving county administration from the courthouse at $29.23 million. An estimated $1 million would be needed to renovate the courthouse.

Social Services’ current site is a temporary lease from the county Industrial Development Authority. Hatfield said the LPOY building — assessed at $132,700 — would cost about $100,000 for repairs. The current school board office has a basement that stays flooded, he said, and central office employees are spread out across different buildings.

The courthouse has four judges but only three courtrooms, Hatfield said. Courthouse security rules also place limitations such as cell phone carriage on the public seeking services at the county administration offices, including the treasurer’s and commissioner of revenue’s offices.

The 39-year old Health Department building in Wise is at capacity with some offices housed in former closets.

In 2019, the board agreed to set aside two cents of the county’s real estate tax rate to fund development of the former school, which was closed in the wake of the school system’s school consolidation.

Hatfield said that, while renovating Kelly would cost more than just building a new Social Services building, the Kelly site is county-owned and would allow renovation to begin immediately. Birchfield Creek — a source of flooding of residences near the school — could have drainage issues fixed as part of a renovation.

The Kelly site would have allowed a single stop for residents using various county services and could have helped encourage economic development along nearby Lake Street, Hatfield added.

Supervisor James Lawson, who earlier this year advocated purchasing or leasing a former clothing store in the VA-KY Regional Shopping Center on Alternate Route 58 near Norton, raised the option again. Hatfield said that regional development Project Intersection could expand to include redevelopment of the shopping center and make that option unfeasible.

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