School board buys more land for new school in White House

The Sumner County Board of Education recently voted to buy five additional acres (outlined in gray) for a new school in White House.

Sumner County School Board members recently approved the purchase of five additional acres near White House Middle School for just under $450K.

The nearly unanimous vote came four days after Director of Schools Del Phillips signed a purchase and sale agreement to buy the property on Oct. 15.

County leaders voted in March to borrow $52 million in order to build two new schools – Liberty Creek Middle School for $37 million and a new intermediary school for grades 3-5 near White House Middle School for $15 million.

White House Middle School sits on 20.29 acres the school district bought in 1999 at the corner of Webb Lane and 31W. The school system purchased an additional 20.2 acres along 31W in 2006; and 14.57 more acres behind it in 2009.

School board members approved in March plans to build the new intermediary school on the 20.2-acre tract.

Phillips gave an update on the White House Intermediary School project as well as Liberty Creek Middle School during a school board study session on Oct. 12.

Phillips said the school district had originally thought it would bid the two jobs in late fall, but was now looking at bidding them in January.

“There’s so much volatility in the market now,” he said. The two schools are expected to open in August of 2024.

Phillips made no mention of the possibility of buying additional land for the White House project at that meeting, but signed an agreement three days later contingent upon school board approval on Oct. 19.

During the Oct. 19 meeting, Phillips said the school district heard that the property next to where the new school is being built was coming on the market.

“We heard it was coming, went on MLS and we were able to get it done – pending board approval of course,” he said.

The property that includes a 1,879-square-feet home, large barn and other buildings was listed Oct. 15 for $449,990.

Phillips said the purchase of additional land will allow for more flexibility when designing the new school.

“We have a good bit of road frontage there [already],” he said. “What’s valuable to us is the 4.8 acres there on the back side of the tract. It will allow us to probably change the position of the building so it’s not crowded so close to the road.”

Phillips said the new land would also allow more flexibility for the playground and playfields to the back of the property.

“It’s perfect timing for us,” he said. “This is a good thing for the school system long-term.”

The money used to purchase the land will come from the school district’s general purpose fund earmarked for site development, Phillips noted. The school district allocated $1.1 million for site development in its 2021-2022 General Purpose Fund budget.

Hendersonville resident Joanna Daniels addressed board members about the land purchase during the Oct. 19 meeting. Daniels asked if the school board planned to buy any adjacent property, and why the purchase wasn’t discussed sooner.

One of the adjacent property owners is County Mayor Anthony Holt whose one-acre property fronts 31W, she noted.

Holt told the Hendersonville Standard that he bought the property years ago with his late father.

“Nobody has approached me and I have not approached the school board,” he said. “I’ve never sold the county or school board any of my property. I just don’t think that would be a good look.”

Daniels said last week she still didn’t think the purchase was necessary or that the school district was transparent enough in the transaction.

“They are a public entity,” she argued. “They can’t just purchase land without a plan in place and without notifying the public.”

Sumner County Schools Spokesman Jeremy Johnson said the school district was approached about buying the land after the study session on Oct. 12, and acted quickly to buy it. “Anybody who has dealt with real estate in Sumner County within the last year knows that property goes fast when it’s available,” he said.

Johnson said he added the land purchase to the Oct. 19 agenda as soon as the contract was “hammered out.” It was added to the agenda on Oct. 18.

“The spirit of providing adequate public notice is so the public can be informed and have time to comment,” said Daniels. “The land wasn’t needed, it wasn’t in the plans, and they shouldn’t have an open-ended checkbook.”

The vote to approve the land purchase was unanimous except for District 8 school board member Ted Wise who abstained.