Old Cartoogechaye School could be future playing fields

Macon County commissioners decided last week to try to buy the old Cartoogechaye School, raze it and build two ball fields on the site.

County Manager Jack Horton called a special board meeting last Friday after realizing the possibility of acquiring the old school on U.S. 64 west of Franklin was, literally, in its last moments. The Macon County Board of Education is auctioning off the old school to the highest bidder. A farmer, wanting the rich, flat bottomland where the school is built beside Cartoogechaye Creek for tomato fields, had entered a sole bid for $235,000. The 10-day “upset period” on the bid was about to expire.

In previous years, the county had considered purchasing the vacant school from the Macon County Board of Education, but had balked at the then $1 million fair-market asking price. That was just too much money, Commissioner Ronnie Beale said. But real-estate values have since plummeted.

The commissioners voted last Friday to put in an upset bid for $247,000 (each new bid must be at least 5 percent higher than the last one.)

If they could get the nine acres and a still serviceable gym for just a quarter million? Well, said Chairman Brian McClellan, a financial advisor in Highlands in real life, “I’d kind of consider this money out of the left pocket into the right.”

That’s because county commissioners serve as the funding arm of Macon County Schools. Commissioners noted they’d have a mental tally of the payment for Cartoogechaye Schools the next time there was a school board funding request.

Beale, who owns a local construction company when he’s not on duty as commissioner, noted septic and water are in place at the old Cartoogechaye School. The school building itself, he said, is not salvageable; but grading for fields wouldn’t be necessary because the land is already flat. There are some wet areas, but no actual wetlands, Beale said.

If the county gets the old school, they have schematics already drawn calling for the two ball fields, a restroom area and a concession stand.

“The recreation department would be able to do things a piece at a time, if they knew we had the land,” Commissioner Bobby Kuppers said. “Not knowing doesn’t allow them to plan.”

The new fields could allow the county to have separate locations for its adult and youth recreation leagues.

Another buyer could upset the new bid by commissioners, or the farmer could come back with a higher offer as well, within a 10-day period.

Macon County built a new school several years ago to replace the old Cartoogechaye School, which was declared surplus in October 2007, allowing it to be sold by the school board. It has been vacant since. An archery club uses the gym.

Commissioners had considered using the old school for a daycare, but the cost of renovating the building was prohibitive, Beale said.

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