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Sullivan school board, not county commission, to dispose of former Brookside school

September 11th, 2015 7:30 pm by Rick Wagner

Sullivan school board, not county commission, to dispose of former Brookside school

Sullivan County Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski

BLOUNTVILLE — Want to buy a former school building in Bloomingdale? The sale may hinge on what you plan to do with it.

Disposing of former school buildings isn’t just for the Sullivan County Commission any more.

The Board of Education is about to get into that business, too.

The school board agreed by consensus during a Tuesday afternoon work session to put the disposal of the former Brookside Elementary on the Monday, Sept. 14 agenda after Director of Schools Evelyne Rafalowski told the board that County Mayor Richard Venable had informed her the commission would have no problem with the school board disposing of Brookside.

It had been tabled for months after the board sought commission input on the matter, but Rafalowski said she’s got two recent requests to show the building. School system officials have said at least two community groups have expressed interest in the facility, including a religious group that wants to reach a lease/purchase agreement for the building and its grounds.

The commission already has on its plate the disposal of the former Kingsley Elementary in Bloomingdale after the idea of the Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority facilitating a conversion to housing for the elderly — similar to what happened with the old Washington School in downtown Kingsport with federal funding — did not pan out.

The school board declared Brookside in western Bloomingdale surplus earlier this year. It most recently housed Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee before it moved to Holston Middle School, and then the former Brookside was used for storage and workspace for some systemwide employees.

Tennessee law allows school board to dispose of surplus school real estate, but the tradition in Sullivan County has been for the school board to declare properties surplus and then turn them over to the County Commission for disposal, which many times resulted in a public or sealed-bid auction.

Board attorney Pat Hull said the school system had asked the property assessor’s office about doing an appraisal on the property, although member Jerry Greene asked if an independent appraisal might be good, too.

He recalled that the former Valley Pike Elementary building near Bristol was sold to the highest bidder for $40,500 and then resold for more than twice that amount, $100,000. Once used for illegal drug making, It is now a bed and breakfast.

In addition, BOE members talked about taking proposals for use of the building and not necessarily selling or leasing the property to the highest bidder.

BOE Chairman Dan Wells said the community’s interest must be kept foremost, and member Randall Jones said restrictions could be put on future uses of the property even after it was sold.

Jones also said an appraisal might not be essential to the process.

In a related matter, the board members talked about a proposal for the county to make temporary use of the old Holston Warehouse facility, a former high school near Tri-Cities Regional Airport, and discussed its long-term future.

Greene said the board should wait and see if the property might fit into the new large high school planned for that area of the county, if not as a site, as a location for athletic fields.

The county school facilities study, approved by the count board last month, would construct by 2019 a 1,400-to-1,700 student high school in the Sullivan Central High area, which is only one interstate exit away from the Central High exit.

A meeting on the county and Kingsport school facilities study is set for 6 p.m. in the small auditorium of the Pierce Administration Building at Northeast State Community College.

Greene said the school board should not be in a hurry to dispose of the property for another reason: He understands it would revert to heirs of the family that originally donated the land if it ceases to be used by a public school system.

The county has been plagued by that issue on some old schools properties, making them difficult if not impossible to abandon because of the difficulty in identifying and contacting heirs.

Gravely Elementary in western Bloomingdale reverted back to heirs and eventually was sold to a church, while Cedar Grove Elementary in that same area was sold at auction and today is used mostly as a light manufacturing facility with a small residential section.

The Kingsport Regional Planning Commission receommended against the rezoning to allow the manufacturing, but the Sullivan County Planning Commission had the final authority to approve the rezoning for the non-city property and did so.

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