Unicoi County Director of Schools John English, right, gives a presentation to the Unicoi County Commission regarding facility upgrades throughout the school system. The estimated cost of the improvements is $8.1 million. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County Board of Education joined Unicoi County Director of Schools John English and Johnson City architect Tony Street in addressing the Unicoi County Commission on Monday, March 25.

At the meeting, English requested roughly $8.1 million in the form of a capital outlay note through the county for the upgrades. According to English, Unicoi County Schools would pay the outlay note back, but the commission must approve and make the request first.

English worked with Street, who recently completed the construction of the new Boones Creek School, to calculate the estimates for the proposed upgrades to Unicoi County school properties.

Unicoi County Schools are currently paying $330,000 a year on the original capital outlay note that was used for the construction of Unicoi County High School. According to English, that capital outlay note will be completely paid off by June of 2021.

“Our plan is to ask the (Unicoi County) commission to approve and consider a new capital note when the 2021 high school capital note has matured,” English said Monday.

English acknowledged that Unicoi County Schools would be able to pay $330,000 annually on the new proposed outlay note.

The estimated $8.1 million would be used for several projects. English stated that upgrades to  Gentry Stadium, where the UCHS football team plays, would be the top priority. According to English’s presentation, Gentry Stadium needs to have the current press box and seating demolished and rebuilt. The new stadium seating would include steps, handrails, and would be handicap accessible. Gentry Stadium would also need paving and LED lighting. The proposed cost for the renovations at Gentry Stadium would be $2.4 million.

The next upgrade would be for renovations at the UCHS track.

“Our track team hasn’t held a home track meet in a number of years, and our track team deserves a track to call home,” English said. “We also feel like a new track brings in revenue for the county. Track meets bring in a lot of people that are going to stop and eat, they are going to stop for gas and stop to pick up a sports drink.”

The estimated costs at the track would be $1.2 million and would call for the track to be fitted to regulation size. The track would also be resurfaced with a rubberized top that meets the regulations for TSSAA. The proposal also calls for bleachers, a field house, restrooms, and LED lighting.

“The track would be available for citizens to walk on as well,” Unicoi County Commissioner Glenn White, who is also a teacher at UCHS, said.

The third wave of upgrades would be for new tennis courts to be built on campus at UCHS. The costs associated with the construction of tennis courts at UCHS would be an estimated $750,000. The plan calls for six tennis courts, fencing, LED lighting and bleachers.

English then pointed to upgrades that were needed to the UCHS auditorium. According to English, an estimated $300,000 would fund upgrading the outdated stage lighting and the sound system.

“The auditorium is another tool in bringing potential revenue into the county,” English said. “We would be able to have more concerts and theater productions that will bring in more people.”

English also explained that Unicoi Elementary was in need of a new gym. The new gym would cost an estimated $2.5 million, and would include restrooms, locker rooms, bleachers and a new equipment storage room inside.

The final phase of projects would be centered around upgrades to Rock Creek Elementary. English said that Rock Creek Elementary was in need of electrical upgrades, a new HVAC and plumbing upgrades. The estimate for the Rock Creek Elementary upgrades is $980,000.

Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas, whose wife, Cathy Thomas serves on the Board of Education, advised English that the request would have to go through a few committees before returning to the commission to vote on.

“This will have to go before the Buildings and Grounds committee and the budget committee before it comes back before the commission,” Thomas said.

Thomas recommended that the request be added to the agenda for both the Building and Grounds Committee and the Budget Committee meetings next month.

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In other business, the commission voted unanimously to approve and accept the interlocal agreements with both the Town of Unicoi and the Town of Erwin for ambulance services.

The commission also voted unanimously to send out a request for proposal for fencing upgrades at the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department female annex. The annex was in the news recently when on March 14 an inmate was able to escape by scaling the fence.

“She scaled the old fence like a squirrel and was gone,” Sheriff Mike Hensley previously told The Erwin Record.

The commission concluded business by voting to accept the current Unicoi County Commission Facebook page as its official Facebook page. The commission also voted unanimously to start broadcasting the county commission meetings through Facebook Live starting next month.