Highway 321 Land Deal –
Loudon County Board of Education
Good Financial Decision or Costly Boondoggle?
By: Pat Hunter
Up to now, the School Board has maintained their silence about the $2.2 Million (est.) Highway 321 land deal. But when School Board member D-5 Freddie Gene Walker attempted to bring this matter up for discussion at a subsequent school board meeting, Walker was quickly silenced by the former School Board chairman.
One hot topic at Friday’s Candidate Forum was the questionable land purchase by the Loudon County School Board. The 80 acre (est.) parcel of land on Highway 321 is located close to the Roane County line.
While many School Board members maintain that it was necessary and a good decision, others on the School Board point to just the opposite.
Here’s the question, which was asked by an audience member to School Board member D-5 June Klinstiver. Moderator, Ms. Roitman read a two part question from the index card. This was the second question, which Ms. Klinstiver decided to answer first. Roitman asked, “If Greenback was the number one concern, why did we go buy $2.2 Million land on Highway 321, why didn’t that go to Greenback?
Seat B, D-5 School Board Klinstiver maintained that she favored the land purchase because more property was needed to address overcrowding at Eaton’s and North Middle School. Land is not readily available in that area. The land had all the necessary infrastructure such as electric, sewer and water nearby. Traffic is bad at Eaton’s and North Middle and she believes that another school is needed. Click to view Video clip June Klinstiver P1 Video Clip June Klinstiver P2
Seat A, D-5 School Board member Freddie Gene Walker commented how he opposed the land deal from the onset. He spoke about how School Board member Larry Proaps urged the School Board to buy another piece of property because it would sell quickly but the same property is presently on the market. Walker commented about speaking to architects about the land and purportedly it would take $3 Million in grading just to prepare the land for building. He thought that the School Board should go ahead and sell the land. Click to view Video clip Freddie Walker
Vying for June Klinstiver’s seat is Van Shaver, former D-5 commissioner. Shaver shared his insight about the land purchase on Highway 321.
According to Shaver, the land was privately owned and a developer had an option on the 103-acre parcel of land. He didn’t know what he was paying on the option. The School Board comes along and says we would like to buy this property. The property belonged to a former career Loudon County educator. The School Board negotiated with the developer and bought 80 of the 103 acres. The developer kept the 23 acres of premium road frontage on Highway 321 with nearby infrastructure of water, sewer and electric. According to Shaver, the School Board kept the backside where “you can’t raise goats on it” because it straight up and down. Mr. Shaver should know since he raises goats.
Shaver commented that the bad part of the land deal was that the developer bought the property at noon today for $1.3 Million. The developer kept the 23 acres with the road frontage and the School Board turned around and paid $2.3 Million to the developer 10-minutes later. According to Shaver, the School Board paid $900,000 for 23 acres less than what the developer got. Shaver’s point was that the School Board could have bought the land for much less if someone had negotiated with the owner directly. Shaver summed it up, County Commission writes the check and the School Board throws the money away on the side of a hill and says “we don’t know what happened.” Click to View Video Clip Van Shaver
Ms. Wendy Baustian also addressed the issue. "We may want to consider selling the property on Highway 321. While we previously had a building plan which included this property, due to economic times, it is prudent that we consider selling this land and using the money for bonding of the capital building plan rather than implementing a wheel tax."
Click to View Wendy Baustian about land on Hwy. 321
Ms. Baustian is running for the Loudon District Seat A against incumbent Bill Marcus, husband of Commissioner- Budget Committee member Nancy Marcus.
This land purchase continues to dog the School Board especially now with the current financial woes of the Board. The School Board also faces increasing fuel costs to transport children to and from school. If the property were to be used at a future date, transportation would be costly.
During the Capital School Building Plan discussion, School Board member Steve Harrelson shared his concerns; he mentioned how the average distance for students in the 6th District would be in the neighborhood of 10 to 12 miles commuting distance! Who's thinking about the student who spends much of his or her time on a school bus full of fumes? Did the School Board spend $2.2 Million wisely? The debate continues, was this a wise financial move or a costly boondoggle?