Schools for sale – cheap?

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By Damon Lawrence

The Roane County Board of Education is moving ahead with the auction of two schools, setting minimum bids for Walnut Hill and Dyllis elementary schools.
Walnut Hill closed after the 2010-11 school year and Dyllis closed last summer.
The board also plans to auction 2.32 acres of vacant land it owns off Eureka Road near Rockwood.
The board voted to set the minimum bid for Walnut Hill at $25,000 and the minimum bid for Dyllis at $70,000.
The minimum bid on the Eureka property was set at $5,000.
“Setting a minimum bid at a lower price, it’s going to generate more interest,” school system business manager Eric Harbin predicted.
The board is retaining Furrow Auction Co. of Knoxville as the auctioneer.
“They did come over and visit all three properties,” Director of Schools Gary Aytes said. “It was Furrow’s suggestion that we sell all three properties on the same day,”
A date for the auction had not been set, but Aytes said he is hoping it will take place within 30 days.
Earlier this year, an issue was raised about which elected county body has the right to sell school property.
School board attorney Charles Cagle said the board has the power to dispose of any property to which it holds title. 
“Not only do you have the power to get the property, buy it, erect school buildings, you have the power to sell it,” Cagle said.
Roane County Executive Ron Woody indicated that the current path the school system is taking differs from what’s been the custom in the past.
“We’ve sold over the years, I guess, three or four school properties,” he said. “The county has sold them at public auction.”
Despite the ambiguity, the school board is moving forward with the sale.
“This is our property?” Board Member Hugh Johnson asked at the Sept. 20 board meeting.
“I think Mr. Cagle has made that clear that the board has the authority to sell and use the proceeds for educational purposes,” Harbin responded.
An auction for the contents inside Walnut Hill, including kitchen equipment, cafeteria tables, desk and shelves, is scheduled for Saturday at 9 a.m.