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Watauga County Commissioners Vote in Favor of Neo Corp. Offer for Demolition of Old Watauga High School

By Ethan Woodhouse

The old high school has been subject to vandalism since it was vacated in the summer of 2010. Photo by Ken Ketchie

June 5, 2012. The Watauga County Board of Commissioners voted to accept NEO Corp.’s $361,750 bid to demolish the old Watauga High School at a public forum held Tuesday morning at the Administration Building in Boone.

After six citizens spoke for just over an hour, the commissioners each took turns echoing sentiments about the property’s possibilities before voting 4-1 in favor of handing demolition over to NEO Corp. Commissioner David Blust was the only vote in opposition.

Gayle Henson, Boone, opened public comment with a 15-minute slideshow presentation. Commissioners granted him immunity from the three minute speaking limit. Henson had multiple issues with the building’s demolition.

“What you see here is a tragedy of citizens property in Watauga County,” Henson said.

Henson suggested damage to the building would cost $16,186 to repair, and compared that cost to the $361,750 that would be spent on demolition. He claimed the building was structurally intact, something Commissioner Jim Deal and Chairman Nathan Miller disagreed with.

The second speaker, Jess McNeil spoke on behalf of Habitat Humanity and suggested salvaging materials from inside the building if demolition was imminent.

Other speakers had a variety of suggestions for the vacant building, involving recreational centers, small shops or even a historical museum. 

“The building has one use: for a school,” Miller said. “We have no use for it. Why would we repair a building we don’t have a use for?”

“You want a YMCA?” Chairman Miller asked those present. “They want a new building. You want a recreation center? We would require a new building.”

Meeting EPA standards regarding the presence of lead and asbestos, the building’s value and the decline of previous offers were all concerns of citizens opposed to demolition.

Regardless of the decision made, the Commissioners made it clear they did not want this to weigh on the wallets of Watauga citizens, particularly in times of “financial straits.”

“I think the citizens of the county shouldn’t have to pay for this,” Blust said in regards to demolishing the building.

Commissioner Vince Gable pointed out that renovating the building would cost citizens as well, in all likelyhood through the raising of taxes.

Outside of these financial issues, the Commissioners pointed out the uselessness of the building and liabilities.

“It’s an attractive nuisance,” Miller said. “If a child gets up there and gets hurt, people will ask why we left a vacant building up there.”

With public comment closed, Maintenance Director Robert Marsh discussed implications of the deal with NEO Inc.

The $361,750 proposal includes clauses for all lead removal as well as a $100,000 administrative contingency regarding future asbestos discoveries.

“The likelihood that we’ll find more asbestos, yes there is a likelihood we’ll find more than what was quantified in the original base deal and that’s the reason for the $100,000 contingency,” Marsh said.

Marsh said 600 locations on the property were surveyed for lead and 30 samples of suspicious materials were taken up for asbestos. The proposition also requires the land be reduced to a level grade.

Following Marsh’s presentation, the Commissioners voted in favor of NEO Corp.’s proposition.

Demolition is set to begin mid-June and will be completed by April 2013.