BOE eyes land for new school

Jeremy Nash

After years of deliberation, Loudon County Board of Education has taken the first step toward potentially acquiring land off Shaw Ferry Road in hopes of constructing a new school on the northern end of the county.

During last week’s board meeting, members gave Director of Schools Jason Vance the go-ahead to begin drafting a proposed contract between the BOE and the property owner.

Vance said an attorney will be hired to create the proposed contract outlining a contingency clause indicating the school board has up to six months to obtain additional property deemed acceptable to the BOE either by purchase or easement for access.

“From there, the board would then have to secure funding for it through either the adequate facilities tax or through their fund balance or a mixture of both,” Vance said. “I don’t anticipate the (Loudon) County Commission’s going to raise property tax for that, so I would think it would be one of those two avenues. So, really, several factors that would have to come into consideration before we could actually purchase the property.”
Vance said he hoped to have a drafted contract by next month for the board to review.
Listed as 42 acres owned by Nancy Osborne Staub, Loudon County Property Assessors Office has the property assessed at $397,000. Vance has recommended the board offer $400,000, with the seller paying all property taxes to the date of sale. Estimated taxes due, including a rollback reimbursement, amounts to about $4,953.
Vance said the property costs about $9,500 per acre.
“I believe the location makes it right and the fact that it’s located in between Highland Park and Eaton elementary school, which would allow you an opportunity draw from both sides of the northern Loudon County,” Vance said. “Additionally, it’s positioned in a place that does not require you to load Highway 321 with property like it is currently loaded with Eaton Elementary School and North Middle School campus.”

Planning ahead

BOE Chairman Scott Newman said the board needs to begin preparing for the future, and although no plans are in place for the school system to construct a building in the near future, the BOE needs to account for population growth.
“If you look at Eaton — and we’re adding onto Highland Park right now,” Newman said. “If you look at Eaton and North Middle and Highland Park, they’re all growing, so we need to — if we could find this land now, this spot of land now, we need to go ahead and see if we can obtain it so we can at least have an idea what we’re going to do.”
Vance said there could come a time two or three years from now when the county needs another school or “maybe even longer than that.”
“I’ve had several people ask me, ‘Why would you want a piece of property right now when you know that you’re not going to build a school in the very near future’,” Vance said. “And I will say that they’re not making anymore property and property’s not getting any cheaper. It is a buyer’s market for property. Property at this point in time is much more reasonable in price than it’s been in several years, and I believe that the board is wise to take these things into consideration when they move forward being fiscally responsible with the monies that they’ve got available.
“Now, on the counter side of that, I’ve had people ask me, ‘Why do you want to buy a piece of property now when you know you’ve got a piece of property off Highway 321 that you’re not going to build on? Why would you want two pieces of property’,” he added.
Vance said he hopes to sell the property off U.S. Highway 321, which was purchased several years ago for $2.2 million. Last month, the board decided to put the property up for sale.
Vance said the Realtor has recommended to list it at the original purchase price.
“I think the board would take any offers into consideration, but I think they’re going to hard-pressed to take a lot less than what the initial offering price was, but I’m not sure,” Vance said. “... I would think that the board would take any offer into consideration but probably not give it much merit unless it was close to the $2.2” million.

Ideal for schools?

Board member Gary Ubben said the 42-acre parcel would be suitable for elementary or middle schools, or potentially both, and the site would serve the school system’s “immediate need.”
“When I say immediate, we’re still probably looking at five years away,” Ubben said. “I would be surprised if anything happened before then, but if you wait until then to buy land then it’s gone. They’ll build houses on it, and so we’ve got to pick a piece of property now I think and buy it where it’s still available and at a reasonable price in a location that what I think will minimize traffic and traffic congestion and travel time.”
Students at North, Eaton and Highland Park transition to Lenoir City Schools because the county district does not have a high school in Lenoir City.
Vance said he would one day like to see a high school constructed on the northern end of the county.
“I don’t know that politically many people want us to build a high school on northern part of the county just because Lenoir City has a high school,” Vance said. “I will say that I’ve always wanted a high school over there in order to capture the great students that leave Highland Park, Eaton and North Middle school to go to Lenoir City High School. Got a great number of kids that do fantastic with things, and I’d love to have an opportunity to be able to educate them through the duration of their school.
“Now with that being said, there’s always the political side of that that Lenoir City has got a rich tradition, and they’re doing great things,” Vance said. “Don’t want to take away from them, I think they are, but man if we got to keep our own kids all the way through school, I think that would be phenomenal for Loudon County Schools.”
Ubben said the property under consideration wouldn’t be suitable for a high school, noting it would need about 60 acres to accommodate for athletic fields and other facilities.
“You need some athletic support fields for a middle school, but you don’t need baseball and softball and soccer and track and football,” Ubben said. “You don’t need them all like you do for high school. So, a high school site needs to be a little larger than this one, but our immediate (needs) — we’ve got a good contract with Lenoir City, and then I think the foreseeable (future) we’ll continue to send our high school kids there, but the immediate need is going to be at the elementary school and middle school level.”