By Paul T. Choate & Ethan Woodhouse
May 4, 2012. Watauga County commissioners will host a public forum tomorrow, Tuesday, at 8 a.m. at the Administration Building in Boone as they attempt to determine the fate of the old Watauga High School.
Located off Highway 105, the school has been empty since the summer of 2010. A series of arsons and vandalisms have occurred on the property, most recently in February, when three men set fire to the schools auditorium.
“Is the building in that bad a shape?” asked Commissioner David Blust, who has spearheaded efforts to preserve the building. “There are some broken windows but it’s structurally sound as far as I know.”
Commissioners Jim Deal, Tim Futrelle and Vince Gable opposed a public hearing, but voted in favor of one.
“I just don’t see what we are going to gain,” Deal said at the May 15 meeting. “Are we going to find information we don’t already know about the condition of the building? As an accommodation for Blust, I will vote for it, even though I think it is a waste of time.”
If demolition goes forward, NEO Corp. of Canton will be contracted to do the work. Their bid of $361,750 was the lowest offer.
Watauga County has until Wednesday, June 6, to accept or decline NEO Corp.’s bid. The project would begin shortly after that date, in early June.
Reports suggest that market value of the property has significantly dropped over the past six years. An appraisal conducted by Tennille & Associates in March 2006 determined the property’s value to be approximately $15.58 million dollars. By June 2011, one year after the building was vacated, value of the 74-acre lot had fallen to $7.87 million according to Charlotte-based Integra Realty Resources.
“I think there are millions of dollars up at that high school,” Blust said. “That property belongs to the people of the county, not the commissioners.”
The asking price for the property, as-is, was set at $28,000,000 in 2009. Core Asset Group LLC offered $20,000,000 for the building in 2011 with a plan to pay $5,000,000 a year over four years. The offer was declined.
While Commissioners Deal, Gable and Futrelle seem set on demolition of the building, Blust hopes comments from himself and residents can change their minds.
“I definitely want a public hearing, I’ll go on the record and say that,” Blust said. “I have heard so many people … and not talking just two or three. I think we need a public hearing.”