BLOUNTVILLE — Today’s Sullivan County Schools lesson is spelled s-u-r-p-l-u-s, and the class is Real Estate Sales/Wheeling and Dealing 101.
When it comes to disposing of old school buildings or other properties no longer used, Sullivan County education officials are going to be busy soon, declaring schools and their campuses as surplus real estate and disposing of them.
After reshufflings prompted by the pending opening of West Ridge High School on Aug. 9, four school or multi-school campuses are being retired in May: Blountville Middle/Elementary, Colonial Heights Middle, Sullivan North High/Middle (already to be repurposed by Kingsport), and the middle school portion of Sullivan Gardens K-8.
Also in the mix is property near Tri-Cities Airport, the old Holston Institute used for storage and last used as Holston Middle in 1980, as well as about two acres from an old school on the eastern end of the county — in addition to other properties possibly to be declared surplus after having sat unused for decades or that are being used for non-school purposes.
Removing two properties still being used for something, that makes for 11 properties total (counting Blountville as one) that could be declared surplus in the coming months and years.
Kingsport bought the Sullivan North campus for the new Sevier Middle School, to open in the fall of 2023, but the other schools’ fates remains unknown. However, the Blountville properties have drawn the most interest so far.
County Commissioner Dwight King and Board of Education Chairman Randall Jones are discussing the possibility of trading the Blountville schools and campus to the county in exchange for land and an access road to West Ridge, off Exit 63 of Interstate 81. The school board has authorized getting an appraisal on the Blountville property as a starting point.
The soon-to-be vacant Blountville schools had spurred interest as a potential jail expansion site, a proposal voiced by King. However, Jones emphasized the BOE policy is that after the board determines a school system-owned property is not needed for school system use and is to be surplussed, it approaches the county to gauge any interest.
If the county is interested, it can buy or trade for the property. If not, Jones said the school system would sell it via either sealed bid or live auction. Normally the highest bidder would win, but the school system reserves the right to reject any and all bids.
“We have no say-so over what it’s used for if the county buys it,” Jones said.
HOW MUCH ARE SURPLUS SCHOOLS WORTH?
Jones said the Blountville and Colonial Heights middle schools likely are worth much more than any schools the system has declared surplus and sold in the past, and Blountville is drawing high interest.
The middle school was built as Blountville High and opened in 1932 with later renovations and additions. The elementary opened in 1952 with later renovations. Colonial Heights opened in 1957 as a junior high and became a middle school in 1980.
The school board at its April meeting voted to instruct BOE Attorney Pat Hull to move forward with getting an appraisal of the Blountville school buildings and nearly 30 acres. Jones said the two sites each possibly could be worth seven figures.
THIRD COMMUNITY CENTER ON HORIZON?
Christopher Laisure, owner of Business Information Systems Inc. in Piney Flats, bought the former Bluff City and Holston Valley middle schools and is turning them into community centers. He paid $190,000 for Bluff City and $120,000 for Holston Valley.
Laisure has expressed interest in doing the same conversion for the Blountville schools after local residents rallied against King’s idea of turning the property into the new jail expansion, something King said at the April commission meeting simply doesn’t have enough support.
Other uses could include county office space, county storage or an expansion of the Sullivan County Library.
Also, Jerome Williams of Johnson City has told the county commission and school board chairman he’d like to turn part of the buildings into a film school and studio as part of a community center.
“I have had some people contact me about wanting to purchase some buildings,” Jones said of the soon-to-be vacant properties. “I told them we will make that decision, it will be addressed, after we open the new schools.”
Aside from West Ridge High, the existing Sullivan Central High and Sullivan South High will become, respectively, Sullivan Central Middle and Sullivan Heights Middle. Blountville Elementary students will be moved mostly to the Holston Elementary/Middle complex, with fewer than 50 to Central Heights Elementary, and Holston Middle, Innovation Academy and Blountville Middle will move to Central Middle.
Board member Michael Hughes said he’s been impressed with Laisure’s conversion of Bluff City Middle and Holston Valley Middle facilities into community centers.
Other currently operating school buildings no longer to be used as schools after May are Colonial Heights Middle and Sullivan Gardens Middle. The Colonial Heights Middle students, along with those from the middle school portion of Sullivan Gardens K-8, will move to Sullivan Heights along with former Sullivan North Middle students.(tncms-asset)d035853f-92d5-5487-a4e9-333e0eabb13e(/tncms-asset)
Colonial Heights, which opened in 1957, is in the middle of a residential area and could be used for residential purposes or a community center, although it has a leaky roof. The board chose not to seek an appraisal of it at the same time as the Blountville schools.
Sullivan Gardens Middle School dates to 1931 and is adjacent to Sullivan Gardens Elementary, built later. Jones said the close proximity makes disposing of it the most difficult of the soon-to-be vacant facilities.
WHAT OTHER PROPERTIES MIGHT BE AVAILABLE?
The schools closing in May are not all the potentially surplus county school properties available. Work is ongoing, and has been for years, to dispose of the old Holston Institute property near Tri-Cities Airport. The ball fields already have been sold by sealed bid. The school system and county use buildings on the property for storage, and it once housed a Masonic lodge that has since disbanded. Hull has been working to get the remaining property ready for formal board action.
Hull also in April started working on a list of up to nine other “possible” surplus properties, although board members at the April school board meeting narrowed that list to seven by taking off the former Akard School near Bristol, being used for warehouse and office space, and the Sullivan Middle School athletic fields.
The board instructed Hull to move forward with finding out the true ownership status and use of the list of possible surplus properties, as well as an appraisal for the Blountville schools.
The seven include:
• Arcadia School on Bloomingdale Road. The county highway department is storing salt there, and in the past officials have said the title to that property was moved to the county.
• Some foundation and about two acres of the old Paperville School on School Lane near Bristol.
• The old Buffalo School on Beaver Creek Road near Blountville.
• The former Sunrise School property at 2024 Hickory Tree Road near Bristol.
• A small piece of property across from the former Bluff City Middle School on James Avenue in Bluff City.
• The old Temple Star School property on Temple Star Road in the Sullivan Gardens community.
• Vacant land across from Mary Hughes Elementary School on North Austin Springs Road in Piney Flats.