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Unicoi County school closed by sinkhole goes up for sale

Brad Hicks • Jan 10, 2014 at 7:30 PM

ERWIN — Love Chapel Elementary School is up for sale.

At Thursday’s meeting of the Unicoi County Board of Education, the board unanimously voted to have school building that was closed by a sinkhole and the surrounding Unicoi County Schools District-owned land on which it sits declared as surplus property.

Unicoi County Director of Schools Denise Brown said Friday that the Unicoi County Board of Education will issue a notice of public sale Monday, at which time it will begin receiving bids for the property, which includes the Love Chapel Elementary School building and approximately six acres of land. The notice will be advertised on the Unicoi County Schools website.

Brown said the board has set a minimum acceptable bid amount at $100,000, and bids for the property will be accepted through Feb. 28. These bids may be made via the Internet or sealed bids submitted via mail. The notice of public sale said if no bid is submitted that meets the declared minimum bid, all bids will be rejected and the property will again be advertised for sale at a later time.

In August 2012, a large sinkhole was discovered on the school grounds. This sinkhole quickly grew to measure around 25 feet in diameter and was more than 100 feet deep. A relocation plan for Love Chapel students was implemented quickly after the discovery of the sinkhole that saw students relocated to available space at Unicoi County Middle School and Unicoi County Intermediate School for the remainder of the 2012-13 school year.

In February, the Unicoi County Board of Education voted to permanently close the approximately 60-year-old school. This move was made after the board had received a report from HSA Engineers & Scientists in December 2012 that indicated four areas across the property showed signs of sinkhole activity, with two other areas in the process of developing sinkhole activity.

In March, the board voted to approve a relocation plan for Love Chapel students in which a dozen modular units would be leased for three years and placed on property near Unicoi County Elementary School. Students have been attending classes in these modular classrooms since the start of the 2013-14 school year.

“It’s going exceptionally well for what the situation is,” Brown said.

Brown also said that since the board of education voted to close Love Chapel, school officials have been trying to determine the best course of action to take with regards to the property. Like money from the $3 million insurance settlement the school system received in July, Brown said money from the sale of the Love Chapel property will put in reserve to go toward the future purchase of property for a new Love Chapel Elementary School.

Brown said businesses could potentially purchase the property to use for storage or individuals could purchase it for the value in salvage from the school building.

Aside from the money gained through its sale, Brown said the sale of the Love Chapel property could have other financial benefits for the school system. She said the system has had to maintain utilities in the building, despite its closure, and the system has had to maintain the property during mowing season.

“So we’re putting money, for lack of a better word, in a hole,” Brown said.

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