New central office

The proposed site for a new central office building for the Rhea County School System is pictured above. Located on Broadway Street, the facility currently has 9,000 square feet of office space and an additional 20,000 square feet of space that would need improvements.

The Rhea County Commission voted 8-1 recently to allow the Rhea County School Board to move forward with securing a $2.5 million loan to purchase a new central office building.

Rhea County Commission Bill Hollin voted against the measure.

The Rhea County School System originally planned to construct a new building at the current site; however, school officials said that after individuals representing Rhea County Academy expressed interest in buying the current site for future expansion, school officials began considering the Broadway Street site, which already has facility on the property.

The county commission voted in September to allow the school board to move forward with gathering information about the project. County school officials said they were seeking $2.5 million loan for the project but said that it is possible that the purchase cost could be around $1.6 million.

When discussing the possibility of a “trade,” where the school system allows individuals representing Rhea County Academy to purchase the current central office land and in turn the Broadway Street site is sold to the county by an individual with ties to Rhea County Academy, county officials originally urged caution.

However, on Tuesday, Rhea County Attorney Carol Ann Barron said that after looking into state law regarding school property, such a trade and purchase would be allowed under state law.

“The school board can dispose of property as they see fit,” Barron said. “The school board has a little bit more leeway [than the county.]”

Attorney for the Rhea County School Board Charles Cagle agreed in a letter obtained by The Herald-News and addressed to Rhea County school officials.

Citing state law, Cagle said that “the local board of education has the power to ‘lease or sell buildings and property […] in the manner deemed by the board to be in the best interest of the school system and community that it serves.’”

The building the school board is looking to purchase is located on Broadway Street, owned by Birch Arnold and was recently purchased in March 2020 for $300,000, according to county officials. School officials and county commissioners said that renovations and improvements have been made since the purchase, such as a new roof and heating and cooling system.

The site currently has nearly 9,000 square feet of office space ready to move into and a further 20,000 square feet that would need to be improved prior to moving into. County property records show that the property is tentatively appraised at around $547,000, but officials in the county property assessor said that value could increase in a subsequent appraisal.