No takers on buying Love Chapel School building

Brad Hicks • Feb 28, 2014 at 2:28 PM

ERWIN — Although Unicoi County Director of Schools Denise Brown said she fielded several calls from potentially interested purchasers, no bids were submitted for the Love Chapel Elementary School property by Friday's deadline.

In January, the Unicoi County Board of Education voted to have the now-closed school and the approximately of land surrounding the building declared as surplus property. This move allowed the local school system to issue a notice of public sale.

The minimum acceptable bid amount was set at $100,000, and the bid submission deadline was set for Feb. 28 at noon. Brown said Friday advertisement of the sale was intentionally limited to the Unicoi County Schools website and the local newspaper, as school officials wanted to give someone in the community the first opportunity to purchase the school property.

"I've had three different calls on it," Brown said. "Again, they didn't all leave their names. One, for example, was a realtor that was working for a client, and they had called and I sent the information on the bidding process and the date and those type of things. We did have interest. That's the reason I thought we would have some bids today."

But Love Chapel is still on the market, and Brown said the bid advertisement will be more widespread in the second round. She said the school system will now advertise the property on the GovDeals.com website, a site used by government agencies to sell surplus and confiscated items. Brown said the advertisement will be placed on the website within the next couple of weeks, and items advertised on GovDeals. com are typically posted for around 30 days.

"Most school systems, and I think even the county, uses it to some extent," Brown said of GovDeals.com. "It's just an excellent way to get rid of surplus property."

The school system will continue to seek a minimum acceptable bid of $100,000 once the Love Chapel property is posted on GovDeals.com, Brown said.

"We feel like, in talking with the attorney, that's a good place to start," she said.

In August 2012, a large sinkhole was discovered on the school's 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 quickly implemented that saw students moved to available space at Unicoi County Middle School and Unicoi County Intermediate School for the remainder of the 2012-13 school year.

The Unicoi County Board of Education voted in February 2013 to permanently close the approximately 60-year-old elementary school. This followed a report received by the board in December 2012 from HSA Engineers & Scientists. This report indicated that four areas across the property showed signs of sinkhole activity, with two other area in the process of developing sinkhole activity.

Even though Love Chapel Elementary School is closed, it continues to cost the school system. While Brown school children can no longer be present on the property due to safety concerns, the school system has kept utilities on at the building and maintained the property to prevent decay and other issues. She said this will continue until the property is sold.

Last March, the school board approved a relocation plan for Love Chapel Elementary School's approximately 250 students and more than 30 teachers and staff members. This plan saw the school system lease 12 modular untis for a period of three years and place them on property near Unicoi County High School. Students have been attending classes in these modular classrooms since the start of the 2013-14 school year.

"They've made some adjustments," Brown said when asked about the environment at the temporary Love Chapel site. "We have put the canopy up through the main walkway. We've got small canopies over the doors. It's not the ideal situation, especially during snow, rain, those types of things, but our kids, parents and teachers, again, I can't say how remarkable they've been. I give full credit to how our teachers have been onboard from the beginning. They've went through a whole lot, and they've made an unbearable situation very positive for our kids. I think, again, it shows you what great teachers we've got."

Brown said school officials currently have no plans regarding a permanent location for Love Chapel Elementary School, although said said some sites have been looked at. Brown said the school system does have funding for the purchase of property from the insurance payment for the closed school. She also said she is pursing grant funding to go toward a new school.

"My next discussion with the board is for them to give me the OK to move ahead to start talking to people about possible property purchases," Brown said.

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