LETTERS / Thoughts On the Old Watauga High School Building

Published Monday, June 4, 2012 at 9:54 am

Dear Editor,

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!”  Sir Walter Scott

$16,681 in damages to the building, according to the insurance adjuster; and this is justification for destroying this building?

Too bad the High Country Press couldn’t show a picture of the building before the windows were knocked out.  There is a picture of the entire campus taken from overhead that shows the truth of this despicable situation.  ( Sweep up the glass, remove the graffiti, and fix the damn windows!) We keep hearing about their so-called advisors.  I wish they would quit trying to be speculators with our assets.  When you ask how do you know that the property will be worth more or sell faster if you demolish the building, you don’t get a reason other than it is their opinion.  They even say that the property will be worth $18 to $23 million, and they can’t give you any reason for that other than it is their opinion.  And, we know that we always experience huge cost overruns on every contract we enter into.  The new high school is a great example of this.  We had a guaranteed maximum price of $59,900,000, and we have spent $80 million plus to date on construction.  We have been misled over and over and over again;  there is no doubt that Commissioner Deal is chomping at the bit to have this building demolished so he can close this chapter of malfeasance, corruption, and fraud that plagued his regime. [Like the old Betty Crocker commercial–get rid of all the evidence, and you’ve got it made!]

In March of 2006, the Board of Education’s attorney, Paul Miller, Jr. got an appraisal on the old WHS without the board’s approval.  However, he was reimbursed for that appraisal in the amount of $2,500.  The appraisal became public in 2011 when the Republican commissioners requested the appraisal.  That appraisal showed the land worth $15,581,000.  The Board of Education attorney negotiated  offers to purchase the old high school.  And, we paid Miller’s firm in excess of $35,000 for such negotiations.  Miller Properties (Rick Miller) submitted an offer on 5/24/2006 for $30,000,000; Granite Development submitted an offer on 5/22/2006 for $32,000,000 and Gulfside Development submitted an offer on 6/1/2006 for $33 million.  According to the Watauga Democrat on 6/23/2006:  “Three development groups have made formal written offers on the property, the highest at $33 million.”  [In August of 2010, a close colleague of Commissioner Deal challenged this assertion saying that Commissioner Deal had told a group that there never had been any formal offers.]  In July of 2006, the Board of Education and Board of Commissioners decided to not sell the high school.  According to Watauga Democrat on 7/23/2006:  “Deal said advisors said the board would receive more money in three to four years than they could at present.  Deal called the approach ‘conservative’ and the committee was confident of a sale at the desired price or more.  He said the property would continue to increase in value.”  [Now this is the same elected official that is leading the charge to demolish the old WHS and telling us we will get more for the property if we demolish the building.]  Keep in mind that Commissioner Deal also said the property was worth $36 million and $36 million would be the asking price, according to March 2008 letter to the LGC and the article dated 7/23/2006 mentioned above.

Then on August 3, 2007, the Board of Education resolved to give the county title to the old WHS property:  “A motion was made by Ron Henries and seconded by Dr. Warren to transfer ownership of the current WHS to Watauga County Commissioners for use as collateral for bonds for construction of the new WHS.”  Of course the school was not used as collateral nor did the commissioners use bonds to build the school.  However, they did get a $25 million loan in 2008 which is still outstanding and was to be paid off by 2010 when the old WHS property was supposedly sold.  Or, that is the story that was sold to us and to the Local Government Commission.  However, who was to remember what was said? This 2007  resolution was the second resolution made by the Board of Education to transfer the property to the County, and it wasn’t actually transferred until 6 months after the second resolution.  

The saga of corruption continues: On April 21, 2009, the county finally declares the old WHS property suplus and lists it for sale for $28 million.  This is $8 million shy of the $36 million we were told it was worth and $5 million shy of the highest bid of $33 million which was turned down by these realty and fiscal ‘experts’.  Maybe Commissioner Deal was  telling the truth when he told his closest friends that there were no real offers on the old WHS property.  He might have gotten tangled up in his own web. 

In 2010 an offer to purchase a portion of the old WHS property.  The offer was turned down.  In 2011, Miller Properties offers $10 million ($500,000 down with $500,000 commission – net $0 down and the privilege of holding the property for a year to sale. Please note Miller Properties offered $30 million for this property in 2006.)  In 2011 Lincoln Harris offers $7.5 million ($5.5 million after demolition costs considered–they estimate $2.0 million for demolition)  The Commissioners had another appraisal done.  Intregra appraised the property at $9 million with some interesting comment: “The subject is currently listed for sale for $28,000,000, or $373,919 per acre.  We were not provided with details on how the asking price was determined.”  [Not too surprising, we haven’t been given the details either; other than the names of 5 of Commissioner Deal’s friends and advisors.]   The appraiser then goes on to try to justify the value with this comment:  “However, it appears to be based on one of two considerations.  The first consideration is possibly due to the acquisition prices of the latter two parcels (Smitherman and Winkler parcels we purchased from Commissioner Deal’s client for $2.5 million) which ranged in price from $333,056 to $416,667 per acre.  However, these two parcels are significantly smaller than the subject as a whole… In addition, the two parcels that were purchased have the best location on the subject acreage….Therefore, it is our opinion that the subject is worth significantly less on a price per acre basis than the acquistion price of these two parcels.”  [Now the Commissioners claim that the appraiser didn’t have any comparables.  This comment shows that the appraiser did have comparables, and that they rationalized the drop in per acre price for the property.]  The appraiser has a second possible reason for the $28 million asking price:  “The second consideration is possibly due to the assessor’s (County tax accessor) market value of the subject acreage.  The date of the last revaluation was January 1, 2006.  The subject has a total assessor’s market value of $30,396,400.  The assessor’s market value is allocated as $4,254,600 to land and $26,141,800 to the on-site building improvements.”  [Now this tax assessor is the same one that appraises all of our property for tax purposes.  The Commissioners are saying the land is worth $18 to $23 million after the building is demolished.  That doesn’t compute to the tax assessor’s valuation.  If the tax assessor is wrong on this, then what else is he wrong on?  However, while the tax assessor can give us an explanation for his valuation, the Commissioners can only say “This is what we think.”  The Integra appraiser goes on to explain how he arrived at $0 valuation for the building:  “As discussed later in the report, we have concluded that the building improvements offer no contributory value to the site.  Therefore, our valuation is based on land only.  It is our opinion that a market buyer would demolish the existing improvements for development.  it is our understanding that Watauga County intended to demolish the existing improvements.  This was based on older newspaper articles quoting multiple county officials who indicated that the improvements were expected to be demolished.”  [We can thank our “multiple county officials” for denigrating the value of the building to $0 when they were trying to justify building a new high school.  And, they are at it again.  With an appraisal on the land of $9 million, twice the amount of the tax appraisal on the land, the Commissioners “THINK” the land is worth $18 to $23 million!?]

The Commissioners turned down the Lincoln Harris offer and countered with $20 million.  Not surprisingly, Lincoln Harris declined.

So, what is the building worth?  The commissioners say it has no value.  Yet, in 2010, when it came to the attention of the county finance director that the county had not booked the 2008 old high school transfer as an asset, the finance director asked the school board for a value.  When the county books an asset, they book the land (non-depreciable) and the building (depreciable) separate.  The finance director booked the value at $25 million as a building asset based on the fire insurance value the board of education used.  [Please note that despite the $100,000 plus we spend annually between auditors for the county and board of education, neither one of the auditors discovered the failure to report the transfer by the county or the fact that both entities were, and still are, carrying the same asset on their books.]  To make matters more confusing, the finance director sought fire insurance on the old WHS using a value of only $12.5 million. It is really hard to determine just how much the building is worth when the finance directors, the tax assessor, the appraisers, and the commissioners are not on the same page or appear to be concerned with appraisals. 

Isn’t it time that our multiple county officials stop “SPECULATING“, stop their “CRONYISM”, stop “THINKING”, start KNOWING and do what is in our best interests? 

 

While we know the land has a value of $9 million, according the latest appraiser, we do not know the true value of the building. Because the Commissioners are required to obtain fair market value for the property, they need to have the building appraised.  Beforehand, the appraisers have given the building a value of $0 based on frivolous, flippant, and careless denigration of  the building’s value. Remember, before the Commissioners decided to build a new high school on a new site, the renovation  cost  for the old high school up to standard was $25 million.  With the total cost of a new high school being in excess of $90 million (this includes the land) it is criminal for our Commissioners to continue to denigrate the old high school building. Therefore, it is time for the Commissioners to be proactive in the appraisal process. Inform the appraiser how you have determined the $28 million asking price, stop denigrating the building, include the tax assessor in the process, obtain a true value of the building, and sell it “AS IS”. But by all means, get it sold and consider the interest you are paying on that $25 million note!   

Maybe David Blust hasn’t forgotten the trail of deceit that led us here.  And, Commissioner Miller and Gable need to pull their heads out of ….. (you finish the sentence).

Deborah Greene

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