Commissioner Blust Adamant for Public Hearing on Old WHS Demolition; Board Concedes After Lengthy Debate

Published Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 1:43 pm

By Jesse Wood

May 16, 2012. At the Watauga County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday night and after lengthy discussion and disagreement, the board approved a motion to hold a public hearing regarding the demolition of the old Watauga High School and surrounding facilities. The hearing is set for June 5 at 8:00 a.m.

In April, County Manager Deron Geouque directed the maintenance department to accept bids regarding the structures’ demolition. Contractors expressed a “huge amount of interest” in the demolition, according to Maintenance Director Robert Marsh. More than 51 contractors responded to the proposal; 15 of them inspected the building; and 12 submitted bids.

NEO Corp. out of Canton submitted the lowest bid at $361,750. The highest bid was $1,156,986 from Belfor out of Charlotte; that figure aligns with the $1.2-million figure that Integra Realty Resources estimated for demolition costs. Though during this season’s budget process, Geouque anticipated that demolition services would cost $650,000.

The facilities that will be demolished include the main building and the health occupation building, which NEO Corp. bid at $328,000, and the visitors and home concessions, field house, and park and recreation restrooms, which NEO Corp. bid at $33,750. The bleachers, dugouts, sports lighting and fences around the sports facilities won’t be demolished.

NEO Corp. is expected to begin the project in early June, though that date could be extended because of the newly-scheduled public hearing that Commissioner David Blust was adamant about.

“I definitely want a public hearing. I’ll go on record and say that. I have heard from so many people … and not talking just two or three,” Blust said. “This property belongs to citizens of the county – big property. I think we need a public hearing.”

Commissioners Vince Gable and Jim Deal said they didn’t see a need for a public hearing and felt that this would just delay the demolition process.

“I just don’t see what we are going to gain. Somebody can say you can do this and do that with it but haven’t done engineering studies. Unless they did that, [they do] have info we can rely on,” Deal said. “What’s the benefit of a public hearing? Are we going to find information that we don’t already know about the condition of the building?”

The building is dilapidated. It’s been vandalized with graffiti and broken windows and has even become an insurance liability. In February, the old high school caught fire two separate times. In one instance, three teenagers were arrested for breaking into the building and setting fire to the old school.

“I am concerned that it can’t be secured up there. Law enforcement can’t have a 24/7 presence over there,” Gable said. “I don’t want to see this drug on any further – been kicking this ball around for quite some time.”

Finally, Deal and Gable approved the public hearing motion to appease Blust, who maintained that the board has had public hearings “on much lesser things, and this is a huge project.”

After about 10 minutes, Deal said, “As an accommodation for Blust, I will vote for it, even though I think it is a waste of time.”

All the commissioners maintained that they happily let the public speak before the board on any issue. The administration building, where the meetings take place, was jam packed with members of the community waiting on the public hearing regarding the proposed budget for fiscal year 2012-13.

In the back of the room, minor gasps and grunts could be heard during this talk about whether or not the commissioners should or not have a public hearing regarding the old high school demolition.

Public Hearing Notice from Watauga County

Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Public Hearing Notice – Proposed Demo of Old High School
THE WATAUGA COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS WILL CONDUCT A PUBLIC HEARING ON TUESDAY, JUNE 5, 2012, AT 8:00 A.M. TO ALLOW CITIZEN COMMENT ON THE PROPOSED DEMOLITION OF THE OLD WATAUGA HIGH SCHOOL. THE MEETING WILL BE HELD IN THE COMMISSIONERS’ BOARD ROOM OF THE WATAUGA COUNTY ADMINISTRATION BUILDING LOCATED AT 814 WEST KING STREET, BOONE, NORTH CAROLINA. FOR INFORMATION OR QUESTIONS, PLEASE CALL (828) 265-8000.

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