Johnson City evaluating proposal to purchase Ashley Academy property

David Floyd • Nov 8, 2019 at 10:00 PM

A local private school that has been trying to relocate for years has asked Johnson City officials if they would be interested in buying the school’s property on Knob Creek Road.

Founded in 1979, Ashley Academy, 1502 Knob Creek Road, serves students in preschool through eighth grade. Tennessee real estate assessment data indicates the school sits on roughly 1.8 acres of land, which is owned by the “Enrichment Institute,” but doesn’t list a total market appraisal.

Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock said she received an email recently from Ramona Harr, the headmaster, about the city purchasing the land. She forwarded the request to City Manager Pete Peterson, and commissioners discussed the idea during their agenda review meeting on Monday.

“They have been looking to relocate for 15 years, probably,” Peterson told commissioners on Monday. “I’ve been in this conversation several times over the last 15 or 20 years. They’re looking to sell their property and have asked us if we have any interest in buying it.”

Commissioners asked Peterson to get input from the school system and have the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board evaluate the proposal.

Brock said if the city did end up buying the property, it’s possible it would be at the expense of another capital project.

“We don’t have a lot of additional discretionary money sitting around,” Brock said.

Hypothetically, Brock said the land could be used to expand the park, or the school system could have a need for it.

The property is next to Metropolitan Kiwanis Park, which covers roughly 15 acres.

“Since we own that whole block there, we always thought that would be a nice expansion of the park if it ever became available,” Peterson said.

Peterson said this discussion has cropped up multiple times in the past. His understanding is that demand for student enrollment has exceeded the school’s capacity, which means they need a bigger facility.

As part of the Ashley Academy board’s long-term planning, Harr said the school is gaging the city’s interest in the property on Knob Creek Road, which is landlocked by Metro Kiwanis Park.

Peterson said through the years, the city has had conversations with Ashley Academy about the school buying part of the park property so the school could expand, but federal restrictions on the park and the popularity of the facilities meant the city didn’t have any interest in selling it.

Although she indicated the reason behind the inquiry is a question best left to the board, Harr said the school has been growing.

“It’s always good when you know that change might need to take place that you’ve thought about it a few years in advance,” she said.

The school property has a small footprint, Peterson said, but there is a gymnasium, which could be valuable to the city for programs. In theory, buildings on the property could serve as a park headquarters, he said. The close proximity to Liberty Bell Middle School and Science Hill High School means the school system could also have a use for the property.

“What value would that property have to us? The gymnasium, obviously,” Peterson told commissioners Monday. “If you could move Topper Academy there, that’s probably a value to us. The preservation of green space inside the city is always a plus, but beyond that, I’m really stretching.”

Commissioner John Hunter asked Peterson if the school has considered listing the property on the open market. Peterson anticipates they will.

“I think they came to us first just because they own the rest of the block,” he said.

According to prior Johnson City Press reporting, the school was appraised in 2008 at $650,000. As of 2012, the property consisted of five connected buildings, which were constructed between 1960 and 1996.

During a city commission meeting in late 2012, commissioners asked for the property to be reappraised and gave approval to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, which had previously determined the property on Knob Creek Road would be a good location for an arts or nature center, to begin negotiating with the academy to buy the property.

At the time, Ashley Academy was eyeing property at 2423 Susannah St., which used to be home to Tri-Cities Christian School until it closed in 2009. That property is now occupied by Coalition for Kids, a faith-based after-school program.