By University Communications
BOONE, N.C.—Appalachian State University and Watauga County reached an agreement on April 4 for the university to purchase the old Watauga High School property located at 400 High School Drive in Boone. In exchange for the property, the university will pay $15.5 million over 20 years, and turn over ownership of its Business Affairs Annex building, located at 1039 State Farm Road in Boone.
“Appalachian has a long-held tradition of working with our local governments for the greater good of the High Country and our citizens,” said Chancellor Sheri N. Everts. “This agreement continues to build on that legacy, while also supporting Appalachian’s core academic mission. The purchase of the old Watauga High School property and the transfer of the property on State Farm Road will meet a number of needs for the citizens of Watauga County. The properties will once again become vibrant spaces that enhance the county and the university, benefitting our county, region and state.”
County Commissioner Vice Chairman Billy Kennedy said, “The university is the county’s largest economic engine. It makes sense to find ways to partner together, allowing the university to grow in a sustainable manner and allowing the county to enrich the lives of our citizens. This transaction meets a goal of realizing a community health and wellness center the county has had for more than three decades. It will also have significant economic impact, attracting new business and new residents while also serving our current local population.”
“We looked very carefully at this, and while it was not a unanimous vote, we agreed on the key factors, including the numerous needs the State Farm Road property will meet,” Kennedy said.
These include a contiguous recreation area for the county and the ability to build a new swimming complex that would serve Watauga High School’s swim team. “Acquiring this property will make it easier to develop a community area that will offer close proximity to existing recreational facilities including ball fields, tennis courts and the greenway, as well as the medical center. They will have convenient access and parking and be affordable for all residents in our county,” Kennedy said, noting that affordable recreation opportunities is a priority for the commissioners, who represent a county with a near 25 percent poverty rate.
Commissioner Larry Turnbow added, “This is a true win-win. It was time to make a decision on this property, and this will benefit everyone.”
The old Watauga High School property is an approximately 75-acre tract. Its appraised value was $16,794,000 million as of Feb. 25, 2016.
The Business Affairs Annex property on State Farm Road is approximately 3.5 acres, and its appraised value was $2,819,000 million as of Jan. 12, 2016.
Including the State Farm Road property, the university’s offer was valued at $18.3 million. Templeton Properties of Boone also submitted a $15 million offer for the Watauga High School property. The vote to accept the university’s offer passed 2-1, with commissioners Kennedy and Turnbow voting in favor. Jimmy Hodges voted in opposition, citing reservations about the differences in rules related to public and private bids. Upon request, commissioners voted to recuse John Welch and Perry Yates from the discussion and voting, citing conflicts of interest.
“The purchase of the old Watauga High School property has the potential to meet a number of immediate needs and also offers significant strategic opportunities for the university,” said Paul Forte, vice chancellor for business affairs at Appalachian. “Being able to expand to this property means existing space on the main campus can be better utilized for classroom, lab, faculty offices and conference spaces, while expanding nonacademic student support services into the new space.”
Forte noted the property has 35 flat, buildable acres. “This can meet the needs we have now for parking and University Recreation facilities for all students, including multipurpose fields for Intramurals and Club Sports, as well as trails for additional recreational options for our university community as well as the community at large,” he said. Longer term options, Forte said, could include revitalizing the existing track, a location for new residence halls and the possibility of using the location to build a new campus daycare facility.
As for the State Farm Road property, Watauga County Manager Deron Geouque said acquiring the State Farm Road property will allow the county to expand its recreational facilities. He noted that an indoor recreation center has been long identified as a county need, and was included in the 2010-19 Watauga County Parks and Recreation comprehensive system-wide plan. Geouque referenced a community advocacy group, High Country Recreation, which states on its website that of 26 comparably sized North Carolina counties, Watauga County is one of only two without a community recreation center.
“Expansion with this property,” said Geouque, “means we have the flexibility to strategically place a new county health and wellness center in the core of the wellness district – located close to medical facilities and Appalachian’s new Beaver College of Health Sciences building, giving us close access to those resources.” Geouque cited access to university student interns as one key resource that would allow the county to expand its recreational offerings and programming.
The university’s purchase of the Watauga High School property is expected to take place by Sept. 30.
Appalachian will make a $25,000 earnest payment immediately. In October 2018 the university will turn the State Farm Road property, valued at $2,819,000, over to the county, and then will begin making annual payments on the property in 2022, paying $800,000 each year for 18 years. The final payment will be $1.1 million. The property payments will be paid from the university’s endowment fund.
Staff members working in the building were made aware of the purchase on Tuesday, April 4, Forte said.
About Watauga County
Watauga County, formed in 1849, is located within the Appalachian Mountains range in western North Carolina. Named for the Watauga River, the county has a population of about 51,000 and a total area of 312 square miles. Its county seat and largest town is Boone, which, with an elevation of 3,333 feet above sea level, has the highest elevation of any city with a population over 10,000 in the Eastern United States. The highest point in the county is on Grandfather Mountain, at 5,964 feet above sea level. Beech Mountain, which has an elevation of 5,506 feet above sea level, is the highest incorporated community east of the Mississippi River.
Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system, Appalachian enrolls about 18,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.