First new Sullivan school since 1980 set for groundbreaking

Rick Wagner • Nov 4, 2017 at 6:00 PM

EDITOR’S NOTE: Because of the inclement weather, the groundbreaking event (originally scheduled for Nov. 7) was moved to noon, Friday, Nov. 17. The story has been modified to reflect the revised date.

BLUFF CITY — A hayfield in eastern Sullivan County has a new street address: 4500 Weaver Pike.

And come Tuesday afternoon, ground there will ceremonially be broken for the first new county school since the late 1970s: a $20 million middle school soon to be followed by a $60 million high school off Exit 63 of Interstate 81. 

If construction starts as scheduled, the middle school, which will take the place of Bluff City Middle, Holston Valley Middle and the middle school portion of Mary Hughes School, will open in August 2019.

Event reset because of rain

Groundbreaking for the 800-student Sullivan East Middle School is set for Nov. 17 and will take place rain or shine, Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski said in an email Monday. Aside from a standby tent, the event will include the East marching band, cheerleaders, bluegrass band and choir. Signs will be on Silver Grove Road and on the site, which is about a mile southeast of Sullivan East High School. Aside from the name “East,” the two schools will share the Patriots mascot and the colors of red, white and blue, as chosen by an online survey after naming committee work and a vote by the Board of Education.

Rafalowski said heavy equipment is slated to arrive soon, weather permitting. Bluff City-based Baker’s Construction & Excavation won the low bid for the site preparation or “mass grading” with a bid of $709,000. That work is to be completed in 120 days.

Architectural renderings from LSP3/Cain Rash West Architects show a red brick, two-story building with a metal roof.

A construction bid has not yet been let for the building.

School construction: looking back and ahead

Rafalowski was a teacher at Lynn View High School when Sullivan North and Sullivan South high schools were built in 1978-80 and opened in the fall of 1980. North was created from the merger of Lynn View and Ketron and South from Sullivan West and part of Central. Also funded by a rural bond issue in the late 1970s were Rock Springs Elementary adjoining South, Central Heights Elementary and Holston Elementary/Middle.

The two newest county schools will be funded from a $140 million bond issue, split among the three school systems operating in the county and Johnson City. Kingsport is using its proceeds to construct a Regional Science and Technology Center and new front entrance at Dobyns-Bennett High School. The science center is scheduled to open in 2019. Bristol, Tenn., school officials have expressed interest in using their system’s share of the money for a new Vance Middle School. 

Rafalowski said the 1,700-student high school, to take the place of North, South and much of Central, likely will have a groundbreaking in January and a projected opening date of the fall of 2020. The school does not yet have a name, mascot or colors. It is also being designed by LSP3/Cain Rash West.

An electrifying, unanswered question

Whether Bristol Tennessee Essential Services, a TVA electricity provider, or the private Kingsport Power Company doing business as AEP-Appalachian Power will serve the new high school has not yet been determined by the Tennessee Public Utility Commission or the courts. The county school board has gone on record requesting BTES power but has not filed to intervene in the case before the TPUC or in the courts.

AEP has sought a TPUC ruling that a 1989 agreement among BTES, AEP and the Johnson City Power Power means the school site is in AEP service territory, although BTES disagrees and has filed documents in local courts.

The new middle school will be served by BTES, the uncontested power provider.

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