Director of schools says some criticism of Stoney Creek site ‘pure propaganda’
Published 9:58 am Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Insinuating that Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey “orchestrated” the appearance of a resident who raised multiple concerns about a proposed middle school construction project, Carter County Director of Schools Kevin Ward continued to defend the project at Tuesday evening’s Carter County Education Committee meeting.
As the first meeting of the new committee, there was little business on the agenda. However, county resident John Bland had asked to be placed on the agenda under the public comments portion.
Bland, a real estate agent by profession, said he had several concerns with property purchased earlier this year by the Carter County school system as the site for a new middle school in the Stoney Creek community. He said he had researched the land and, in his opinion, it was not suitable for the construction of a school.
Among the concerns cited by Bland are limited room for both expansion and parking spaces, the school’s preliminary design as a two-story structure, lack of proper utilities at the site, proximity of the proposed school to a convenience store which sells beer for off-premises consumption, the school system’s student-to-teacher ratio, proximity of the site to the Elizabethton Municipal Airport and concerns that the property is in a flood zone.
Bland said the school system spent $200,000 to buy the property and the commission approved “another $800,000” for architects’ drawings and design work.
“In our haste, they waived all those contingencies and accepted the property as it,” Bland said. “I hope the new commission is a little more prudent in spending money.”
He added, that in his opinion as a Realtor and based on his research into the property, the site is “not suitable” for a school.
Many of the concerns voiced by Bland have been discussed at meetings of the county commission and its various committees since the plan was first presented to the education committee in May of this year.
At that time, Director of Schools Kevin Ward and Tony Street, of the architectural firm Beeson, Lusk and Street, spoke to the education committee regarding the proposed design of the school and the committee took a field trip to the property to inspect it.
Street said the preliminary design for the school was a two-story facility designed to hold approximately 600 students with “about 150 to 160 growth built into it.”
Ward told the committee in May the construction of the school would eliminate 23 of the 48 modular units currently in use by the school system, would hold grades 5 through 8 and would be fed with students from Unaka Elementary, Hunter Elementary and Keenburg Elementary.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Ward addressed several of Bland’s concerns.
Saying only a very small portion of the property along the river frontage was a flood zone, Ward noted it is considered a “controlled flood zone” since the flow of the river is controlled by the Tennessee Valley Authority Wilbur and Watauga Dams. He added the proximity to the convenience store is a non-issue because the store sells beer for off-premises consumption and is not a bar. He added the school would have a security fence around the property serving to negate the proximity to the store.
As far as the building being a two-story design, Ward said other schools in the county have two floors and he pointed to Cloudland, which is in Bland’s residential district, as an example. “When you build up you build cheaper,” Ward said, adding the two-story design fit the property.
Ward also took issue with Bland’s claims the new school site was too close to Elizabethton Municipal Airport.
According to Ward, Hunter Elementary school is closer to being impacted by the airport’s flight patterns than the proposed middle school would be, and he noted the flight patterns also take planes over Unaka High School. “Should we close down Hunter Elementary school?” Ward asked, to which Bland responded “That’s ridiculous.”
The director of schools also reported the property has access to the required utilities such as water and sewer at the edge of the property and he has already been told by the City of Elizabethton that the school could tap into the sewer system.
“A lot of what has been said has been pure propaganda,” Ward told Bland. Then, addressing Humphrey, he continued. “Mr. Mayor, I congratulate you. You’ve orchestrated this pretty well.”
Ward and Humphrey have clashed over the proposed school before. Humphrey has repeatedly criticized the plan, saying he believes the project is being rushed and needs to be researched further.
Before Humphrey could respond, Bland replied to Ward’s accusation, defending Humphrey and denying the mayor’s involvement.
“I take issue with that Mr. Ward,” Bland said. “Mr. Mayor had nothing to do with this.”
After much debate on the issue, committee chairman Charles Von Cannon said the matter was not one which could be addressed by the Education Committee, and he recommended Bland petition to speak to the Board of Education regarding his concerns.