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Sullivan school board approves estimates for meeting federal disability law

Rick Wagner • Dec 6, 2019 at 6:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — A Blountville woman has stepped forward publicly at a Sullivan County school board meeting to express interest in buying, saving and renovating the old Holston Institute/Holston High School property near Tri-Cities Airport.

Meanwhile, the Board of Education has approved what Director of Schools David Cox called a “good faith” estimate of almost $8 million as what it would cost to make school system buildings not being shut down or sold completely compliant with federal Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

However, the system has appropriated no money toward the proposals and would not be required to unless more new buildings are constructed or existing ones undergo major renovations, maintenance supervisor Charlie Hubbard said. The compliance total would be more than $7.9 million for buildings the system plans on being in use after two new schools are completed, although some costs are listed as yet to be determined. The school plan will be compiled into a Sullivan County ADA report, Cox said.

WHAT IS THE ADA PLAN?

After Sullivan East Middle School opens in January and West Ridge High School opens in August 2021 and other facilities are closed or repurposed, the school system will have those two new schools and several campuses: Blountville, Bluff City, Central Heights, Emmett, Holston, Indian Springs, Ketron, Mary Hughes, Miller Perry, Rock Springs and Sullivan Gardens elementary schools; Sullivan Central/Innovation Academy, East and South middle schools (Central and South are now high schools); and Sullivan East and West Ridge high schools.

Hubbard said much of the ADA expense would be for new door hardware required in all new school construction. The most expensive buildings to retrofit for ADA, among those to be open after the two new schools are built, would be Blountville Elementary at nearly $1.2 million and East High at more than $1 million. The least expensive would be a maintenance facility at $4,000 and Ketron and Emmett elementaries at $25,000 each.

In addition, the system has the following non-student facilities: Akard Service Center (former Akard Elementary), the maintenance facility, Holston Warehouse (the old Holston Institute and not on the list) and Central Office, the latter leased from the county and to be counted in the county’s section of the ADA report.

WHAT IS THE HOLSTON IDEA?

Sarah Jones of Blountville said she and her husband, Jason Jones, are interested in the Holston property on Muddy Creek Road despite deed limitations it has. She told the school board during public comment that the couple wants to put the structure back into community use and for educational purposes, as well as preserve the buildings remaining on the property. A fire destroyed the original school structure, but she said many of the buildings on the site date back to the early 1900s. Board attorney Pat Hull said he has toured the site with the couple and that they would like to get underway with work on the site, including roofing woes.

Hull said Northeast State Community College expressed interest in the property, which could comply with the educational use restriction, but Jones said she hoped school system officials would consider the couple’s interest.

The school system uses the facility for storage of old school furnishings and has filters in a metal building there, while the Sheriff’s Office uses other areas for records storage. A deed restriction says the property is to revert to the heirs of those who originally donated it for school use in the late 19th century. Another restriction said a Masonic Lodge had perpetual rights to use a designated area to meet, although Hull said that lodge merged into one in Bluff City.

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