BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County commissioners said they were impressed with what they saw on a Friday afternoon tour of the under- construction West Ridge High School.
“I can’t wait to see students on the West Ridge campus and witness their reactions. It is exciting for the future of our school district,” Commissioner Angie Stanley said after the tour.
Still, what the officials and students won’t see this year — a new access road or driveway — remains the elephant in the room.
The nearly 300,000-square-foot, $65 million facility is slated to open Aug. 9 with a projected enrollment of 1,900 to 2,000 students. It is located off Exit 63 of Interstate 81 on the narrow and winding Lynn Road, and various plans to get an access road or driveway to the school won’t occur in time for the opening, although some widening and work on Lynn Road is to be completed by then.
Seven commissioners, Board of Education Chairman Randall Jones, Director of Schools David Cox and Interim Director Evelyn Rafalowski toured the school with architect Dineen West.
“It’s amazing and beautiful,” Stanley, from Colonial Heights, said.
Stanley has questioned the wisdom of merging Sullivan South, North and Central high schools into West Ridge. But on Friday, she said the school is impressive and that she believes the improvements on Lynn Road would help.
Commissioner Sam Jones, also from Colonial Heights, said he is impressed with “what we’re going to be able to offer at the school” in regular academic education and career technical courses. Between West Ridge and Sullivan East High, he said, 60 CTE programs are in the works.
Other commissioners on the tour were John Gardener, Archie Pierce, Gary Stidham, Darlene Calton and Larry Crawford.
WHAT IS THE ROAD TO GET THERE?
Randall Jones, no relation to Sam Jones, said he is hopeful the BOE can work out a deal to gain an access road for West Ridge in exchange for the school board turning over the Blountville Middle and Elementary schools campus to the county commission.
The BOE is seeking an appraisal of the Blountville schools property. Randall Jones said the trade idea came up in a discussion between him and County Commissioner Dwight King of Piney Flats.
Jones said a “driveway” from the West Ridge campus to Henry Harr Road simply can’t be completed in time for the opening, and neither can an often-proposed road through the Bishop property to Jericho Drive or a third alternative along a somewhat different route.
WHAT ELSE WAS ON THE TOUR?
Rafalowski said the Learning Commons, adjacent to the cafeteria, is a flexible space that promotes collaboration. But she said a nearby culinary arts kitchen is a special place.
“This is one of my favorite spaces in the building,” Rafalowski said, calling it what a “21st century kitchen looks like.”
The school district is converting two former short school buses into food trucks or “food buses,” which eventually will be used at football games in addition to the concession stands.
“Culinary arts is one of the most popular programs we have in our schools,” Rafalowski said.
The system for the first time in its history this fall is to offer commercial baking in a nearby area, where a construction worker wrote in dust on a vent hood, “West Ridge is the” with an image of a bomb finishing the sentence.
The whole building has skylights and windows that flood it with natural light, which came in handy since the power was off for almost the first hour of the tour.
The commissioners also toured an auditorium that will seat 500, the main gym that will seat 4,500, the football stadium that will seat 4,500, and a band room planned to handle about 300 students.
The main gym can accommodate volleyball, dance, Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps and other activities, as well as basketball.
And in the hallway in front of the gym, in front of the main concession stand, Rafalowski said there will be a wall-sized television monitor to show activities inside for concession workers and fans.