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Wise County exploring possibility of using old high school as office space

Mike Still • Feb 18, 2019 at 12:49 PM

WISE — Wise County will start a study of how the old J.J. Kelly High School can be used to house some county agency offices.

The Board of Supervisors adopted County Administrator Mike Hatfield’s recommendation Thursday to spend $5,000 on a preliminary study of the former school, which was returned to the county after the school system consolidated Kelly and Pound high schools in 2011.

The county school system still retains the facility’s football stadium and softball-baseball field complex, Hatfield said Wednesday.

Hatfield told the supervisors that the Wise County Social Services and Health departments are experiencing tight office space in their buildings. The Social Services Department has been housed in a former bowling alley on Coeburn Mountain Road for several years, and Hatfield said that building is in poor condition due to age and damage from heavy snowfall in recent years.

The county administration offices in the courthouse are also running short on space, Hatfield said, and J.J. Kelly could offer expanded space for all three departments and other non-court-related offices now housed in the courthouse.

If the initial study shows that such a move is feasible, Hatfield said, the Board of Supervisors could decide to authorize a second-phase study to determine the scope of work needed to renovate the Kelly building to house all three departments.

That second study would cost an estimated $60,000, Hatfield said.

District 3 Supervisor J.H. Rivers asked Hatfield if the Kelly building study could also examine hosting the school board’s administrative offices, and Hatfield said that was correct.

“We have an estimate of $10 million to renovate the building,” Hatfield said. If the studies indicated it was feasible, he said, it would take an estimated $1 million to move the county offices out of the courthouse and get those spaces ready for courthouse use.

The cost of building new facilities for those departments could run as high as $35 million, Hatfield said.

In recent years, other departments and offices have moved to other facilities in the county. The general registrar’s office and sheriff’s office share space in the Justice Center on Coeburn Mountain Road.

County Social Services Director Jennifer Lilly could not be reached for comment Friday on the study. County and Cumberland Plateau Health District Director Sue Cantrell said that relocating the county health department could offer advantages for staff and the public.

Cantrell said there are times when the department’s building and parking lot can get crowded on days when patient loads combine with staff training and other activities. The department’s building is also located in a cul de sac in a residential area of Wise, she said, and moving the department offices into the Kelly building could improve access for town residents and have little or no impact on access for other county residents.

“The county has been a great partner in helping the health department,” Cantrell said.

In other business, the board approved an updated memorandum of understanding with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. The document sets down guidelines for state support and local responsibilities for training and operations of the county’s hazardous materials response team.

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