School board stymies transfer of Dunn land

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By Damon Lawrence

Is the Michael Dunn Center in the way of future retail development along Gallaher Road?

Some county officials think so, according to President and CEO Mike McElhinney.

“Members of the County Commission have said we don’t want to see Michael Dunn Center basically in our way if a venture, a Target or some other commercial development would begin along Gallaher Road,” McElhinney told the Roane County Board of Education last month.

County Commission Chairman James Brummett said he hasn’t heard that talk amongst commissioners.

“I wouldn’t want them to move unless it’s good for Michael Dunn,” Brummett said.

A move appears to be in Michael Dunn’s future.

The facility sits on six acres owned by the school board. An adjacent 18 acres is owned by Michael Dunn.

At last month’s meeting Director of Schools Gary Aytes recommended the school board release ownership of its six acres to the county.

“We cannot give them (Michael Dunn) the property,” Aytes said. “We can only give property to other government agencies. It’s my recommendation that we give this land to the county, so the county can work with the Michael Dunn Center to get them a new facility.”

Board Member Hugh Johnson said he is in favor of the idea, but expressed some concerns about Michael Dunn leaving Roane County.

“The Michael Dunn Center services other counties, too,” he said. “If we’re going to surplus that property to them, let’s make sure that Michael Dunn will stay in Roane County.”

McElhinney said Michael Dunn would pledge to stay.

“We feel a very supportive and close relationship with Roane County, with the school board and with the county commission as well,” he said.

Board members eventually balked at the idea and decided to refer the matter to its facilities committee.

“Why would you need our six acres if you’ve already got 18 acres?” Mike “Brillo” Miller asked.

“Your six would make all the parcels together 24 acres,” McElhinney responded.

“And they’re going to sell the 24 acres and move somewhere else?” Board Member Darrell “Drack” Langley said.

“Is that a possibility?” Miller asked McElhinney.

“Yes,” he responded.

Last month’s meeting wasn’t the first time board members heard about that.

“I think it was about a year ago that we were put forth with that proposition that you wanted the property, this six acres, because you wanted to sell that property and you was going to relocate,” Board Member Sam Cox said.

McElhinney said the only stipulation was that Michael Dunn would remain in Roane County.

“We’ve not even begun looking at any other options,” he said. “We don’t have any contracts or offers made on any other parcels of land or anything of that nature.”

The Michael Dunn Center is located at 629 Gallaher Road, Kingston. The road includes an I-40 interchange. City and county officials have pointed to the area as a prime location for retail development.

“Where’s our six acres at?” Miller asked.

“It’s on the Edgewood School building,” McElhinney said. “The center main offices, which are directly behind that and the main parking lot area.”

“So ours is all frontage?” Miller asked.

“Correct,” McElhinney responded.

McElhinney said Michael Dunn has a lease with the school board on the six acres for $1 a year. The lease doesn’t expire until 2075.

“If the school board would decide that they wanted to retain the six acres that would be OK,” McElhinney said. “We would just continue to operate under the lease that we’ve operated under since 1975.”