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Sullivan commissioners tour new high school construction site

J. H. Osborne • Dec 20, 2019 at 2:30 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Two Sullivan County Commissioners and one member of the Sullivan County Board of Education joined Director of Sullivan County Schools David Cox on a tour of the under-construction West Ridge High School on Thursday. The group was led by project architect Dineen West. It was the third such tour offered for county commissioners over the last few days. More will likely be scheduled after January 1, Cox said, in order to give as many of the county’s 24 commissioners as possible an opportunity to see what progress has been made on the school.

Everyone on the tour remarked on the size of the building and how it is much larger than it looks from a distance.

“I’m impressed,” County Commissioner Joe Herron said after the tour. “I appreciate it. I like it.”

Commissioner Gary Stidham and BOE member Jane Thomas each said they’re looking forward to completion of grading work at the site — which eventually will reveal most of the school and its campus to passing motorists on Interstate 81.

“This will be Sullivan County’s new ‘billboard’ for economic development,” Stidham said, going on to explain visitors and potential newcomers will see “we’re committed to education — career technical education. The first thing you see when you come in the school is our industrial trade (instructional areas).”

“We’ve got to get our students ready for the future industrial development we need in the county,” Stidham said. “We’ve got to have a trained workforce to do that.”

West pointed out the career technical education (CTE) classrooms line the front of the building, spanning the two wings off either side of the main entrance. There’s a second hallway of classrooms at the rear of that section of the two-story building. The group also got a glimpse of the school’s media center, cafeteria, auditorium space and gym. Outside the main building the athletic fieldhouse is taking shape.

Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable toured the building a few weeks ago and said then he wanted county commissioners to have the same up-close look at the almost 300,000-square-foot school and its campus.

Cox and West agreed, but suggested it be done in small groups of no more than eight or 10 people given the project is an active construction site.

“It’s a bit overwhelming, the size of the site,” Venable said after his tour. “There would be a greater appreciation for the design of the building if the folks could walk through.” 

HOW BIG IS IT?

The school off Exit 63 of Interstate 81 sits on a tract of about 115 acres, including its West Ridge namesake behind the school, and will actively use about 80 acres. J.A. Street General Contractor is the main builder while Goins Rash Cain Architects, where West is the principal architect, and LSP3 are the architects for the more than $65 million project. West led the tour through what will become the front entrance, which will have a secure area with administration to the right and health occupations classes to the left.

Robotics labs after that will have mostly glass walls and a skylight in a two-story hallway will provide natural light. A ramp to the rear of the building leads to a gym to the right, a cafeteria in the middle and an auditorium. Upstairs, a media center or library will have a staircase descending to the first floor and leading to the cafeteria.

“The concept of a media center is not a quiet learning area. You can talk and have little study groups,” West said on the tour.

The school is scheduled to be complete by July 2021, West said.