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West Ridge High on track for August 2021 opening

Rick Wagner • May 17, 2020 at 8:25 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, which closed in-person schooling from mid-March through the end of the academic year, construction work at Sullivan County’s new West Ridge High School continues.

An architect and the director of schools said the project, delayed a year because of rainy weather, is still on track to allow classes to begin there in August 2021.  And the school board chairman said a board-funded traffic study costing less than $10,000, which may be used to formulate road improvements to the site, will be conducted in September instead of sooner to allow traffic to get back to normal.

Dineen West, lead architect on the project, told the Board of Education at its May 7 work session that construction was on schedule and showed photos and highlighted minor changes in the original plans to make the project more efficient, including a shift in outdoor athletic venues to allow better sharing of concession and restroom facilities. 

“The virus hasn’t slowed them down. They’re still working,” BOE Chairman Michael Hughes said of construction crews at West Ridge, located off Exit 63 of Interstate 81.

The new school of about 1,700 students will replace Sullivan North, Sullivan South and most of Sullivan Central high schools, while some Central students will be rezoned to Sullivan East.

The project, with a cost of more than $60 million, comes after the Jan. 7 opening of Sullivan East Middle School, which cost more than $20 million and combined Bluff City and Holston Valley middle schools and the middle school portion of Mary Hughes, which was a K-8 facility.

West Ridge’s detractors have complained that a traffic study should have been done before the site was purchased, although the BOE selected the property publicly before the County Commission in December 2016 voted to approve $140 million in school capital bonds. Also, some have complained the school plans lack a swimming pool, which would cost an estimated $5 million, and artificial turf for the football field.

The bonds funded the two county projects as well as the now-completed expansion of Dobyns-Bennett High School, the ongoing Vance Middle School replacement project in Bristol and a small portion of the Liberty Bell Middle renovation in Johnson City.

BOE Vice Chairman Randall Jones said he is pleased the West Ridge project is moving along and said he hoped tours of the facility by local school, government and business officials could resume after larger gatherings are allowed as the state reopens.

Kingsport has purchased the North High/Middle complex for $20 million of its capital bonds share, but the city school board at its May 12 meeting voted to choose an architect for that project to do a scope of work and get cost estimates. The vote stopped short of moving forward with the renovation of North into the new Sevier Middle since the Board of Mayor and Aldermen plans no capital bond issues for the coming fiscal year. The architectural study is to take 30 days and will provide cost estimates the Board of Mayor and Aldermen has sought.

Similar information on renovations to D-B and the current Sevier Middle, which will become the new Jackson Elementary, will also be forthcoming.

Back in the county, Central and South are to become middle schools. Blountville Middle, Colonial Heights Middle and the middle portion of Sullivan Gardens K-8 are to close when the renovated Central and South middle schools open.

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