Almost two years after groundbreaking, Sullivan East Middle nearing completion

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The school is slated to open to students for the second semester of this school year’s classes beginning on Jan. 6, 2020.

When students arrive, they’ll be going to a school with a panoramic view of South Holston Mountain from the school’s front porch, called a “discovery porch,” as well as from many windows.

The school, one of two new ones under construction in the county system, will be the first completely new school Sullivan County has built in nearly 40 years since schools opened in the fall of 1980. Some classrooms are near completion, while other areas of the school are still shells waiting to be fleshed out.

Students from the current Bluff City and Holston Valley middle schools will attend the facility, as will the middle school students from the K-8 Mary Hughes School.

“Exemplary learning will take place here in a few short months,” Board of Education Chairman Michael Hughes said of the facility, which had a ground breaking almost two years ago — or 682 days ago to be exact. “I’m just thankful God allowed me to be a very small part of this project.”

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A County Commission-approved $140 million bond funded the more than $20 million East Middle and more than $60 million West Ridge High School, located off Exit 63 of Interstate 81 near Tri-Cities Airport. The bond also provided funding for the new Dobyns-Bennett High School Regional Science and Technology Center that opened this month, a planned Vance Middle School in Bristol, Tennessee, and money toward Liberty Bell Middle School renovations in Johnson City.

Hughes thanked immediate past Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski; former County Commissioner Sherry Grubb; Commissioner Randy Morrell; the late Commissioner Ralph Harr, who supported the concept 20 years ago; as well as current Commissioners Mark Vance, who sponsored the $140 million bond issue that made the project possible, and Todd Broughton, although Broughton as a school board member and later a county commissioner has questioned the new schools’ construction, especially that of West Ridge.

Hughes also thanked former board members Jerry Greene, who attended; as well as former members Jack Bales, Robyn Ivester and the late Betty Combs. Board Vice Chairman Randall Jones and members Jane Thomas and Paul Robinson also attended and laid brick.

“The views you cannot beat them,” said Mary Hughes School bookkeeper Karen Roberts. She will stay at Mary Hughes for the elementary part after the grades 6-8 students, along with Bluff City and Holston Valley middle schoolers, head to the new East Middle in January.

Rafalowski thanked BurWil Construction of Bristol, Tennessee, for its work as the primary contractor as well as other folks who have worked on the building, including brick masons who have laid between 320,000 and 330,000 bricks. Cox said the school and its surroundings are simply “beautiful,” while East High English teacher Casey Martin said: “I’m really excited. It’s a beautiful campus.”


“I keep looking up for what? An eagle. On groundbreaking day we had an eagle fly above,” Rafalowski said. Hughes, who lives in an grew up in that area, said eagles, deer and bears are present throughout the area near South Holston Lake and South Holston Mountain. However, the school’s mascot and colors, Patriots and red, white and blue, are the same as its big brother school Sullivan East High.

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Architect Dineen West, president of Cain Rash West Architects of Kingsport, was among those who gave tours of the facility. So did maintenance supervisor Charlie Hubbard and construction manager Miles Royston.

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Later, West told the board in a late afternoon work session that the mass grading contract at East is done and that the classrooms should be ready for furnishing to be moved in late in the year.

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