The full commission voted down the hastily vetted funding plan late in the budget negotiating process in September. That sent school leaders back to the drawing board to find a suitable property for a $30.5 million K-8 school to replace aging and overcrowded schools in the district.
Some board members were never completely satisfied with the previous location choice, the Youngdale Farm on Boones Creek Road. The vote to approve the property for the school narrowly passed, with those dissenting questioning the motives of County Mayor Dan Eldridge, who pushed for the school site alongside an economic development project to widen and extend Knob Creek Road.
Architect Tony Street, hired years ago by the board to lay out a master facilities plan for the district and drawings for its most pressing project, a new Boones Creek school, rattled off a list of 23 sites Thursday he considered for the facility.
As he ticked off the list, most sites were deemed unsuitable because they weren’t for sale, had poor access from roadways or had topography that would increase the time and costs of construction.
Three made the cut as suitable, but each came with its own positive and negative attributes.
One site, near Interstate 26 and a Johnson City fire station in the 2800 block of Boones Creek Road, is currently for sale, and has been listed for at least three years.
Street said access to the 101-acre tract of land is not optimal, and it is entirely inside Johnson City limits, something the board hoped to avoid because it puts the school farther away from enrolled students.
It’s also currently under option by Johnson City real estate developer Mitch Cox Companies, which is marketing the land for retail development.
Owned by an LLC called Boones Creek Investments, the property was last appraised in 2014 at a value of $3.1 million.
Board member Keith Ervin asked what the potential could be for the property to be de-annexed, similar to a process currently underway in the City Commission, but Street said city leaders “may not be extremely anxious to do that.”
A second portion, owned by multiple people with several homes still standing on the 48 acres, best fits the guidelines approved by the board in its 2013 master plan, Street said, but because of new annexation restrictions, not all of those guidelines are still needed.
Bordered by State Route 36 and Free Hill Road, on the northwest end of the school zone, the land does have several suitable access points, the architect said.
“It's a very interesting site," he said. "I have had good conversations about that property. That is one we may want to continue to look at.”
The seven properties making up the potential site last appraised for a combined $1.5 million in 2014, including the existing structures.
The last site is owned by Alex Williams, the man who bought the Youngdale property after the county lost interest. Williams is a farmer and large property owner along Boones Creek Road, and sits on a planning task force currently examining the area with county leaders to set growth guidelines.
Williams’ 110 acres at the intersection of Boones Creek and Highland Church roads is for sale and has good access points, Street said, but a creek bisects the property, which could cause construction concerns. The Williams site last appraised at $2 million, and includes existing structures.
Ervin expressed opposition to the site because it was too far south in the school zone, closer to Jonesborough.
When a new school is built, Director of Schools Ron Dykes said the zone and those surrounding it will likely need to be reconfigured to redistribute students and redraw bus routes to best suit the location.
“There’s going to have to be a shift of some sort,” he said. “You’re going to have to consider realignment into three or four different schools.”
Though the three sites don’t meet all of the board’s pre-set requirements, Street said it’s not likely to find an available property that does so.
“None of these are perfect properties, but at this point, those to be three owners who are willing to sit down and talk about those properties,” he said.
Board members unanimously asked the architect to discuss pricing with the current properties’ owners and requested to visit the sites for their own inspection.