By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Cherokee Central Schools cut the ribbon for their current facility on Aug. 7, 2009. Since that summer, the old Cherokee High School building, located off of Acquoni Road, has sat vacant and it’s been costing the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians an average of $1,273.82 per day in utility costs according to numbers provided by EBCI Commerce officials. That works out to $38,745.21 per month and $464,942.50 annually.
Tribal Council discussed the issue of what to do with the high school building and the 20 acres it sits on during a work session on Wednesday, July 12. During the meeting, numbers were also presented for the costs of a full demo ($783,660) and a selective demo ($1,091,207), which would only entail going down to the basic structure for the building. Commerce officials also stated that an estimated $160,000 has already spent on abatement and that it would cost an estimated $80,000 to fix the vandalism (windows only) at the building.
“Whatever decision is made, we have to seriously consider that whatever is placed on that property generates revenue,” said Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed. “Granted, it would be nice to have an administrative building there. It would be nice to have cultural things there or anything of the sorts, but whatever the decision is, we have to be honest with ourselves that right now our spending is outpacing the amount of revenue that can be generated by gaming.”
He advocated for a demographic and market study on Cherokee to better understand what might work best for the site. “Let’s be honest with ourselves. If you look at downtown Cherokee, we haven’t changed much in 50 years as far as the offerings go. Granted the content varies a little bit, the reality is that we still have souvenir shops. There’s really nothing in the downtown area as far as retail goes that’s going to keep Cherokee dollars in Cherokee other than maybe going to Food Lion and the Dollar Store.”
Tribal Council Chairman Bill Taylor reminded his colleagues of existing legislation regarding the building. “We’ve to remember that we’ve got that resolution out there for the New Kituwah Academy and the Youth Center. So, if we decide to move forward with this, we’ll have to rescind that resolution.”
Birdtown Rep. Travis Smith commented, “The numbers aren’t there for this building. We moved out of it and built a new school for a reason, because it was old and it was run down and there were problems with it. I think that it’s time has come and gone.”
He advocated for demolition of the building and looking at development of a master plan for the site. “Let’s move forward. We’re in a new time here, and I think these programs deserve some new space and our people deserve some new places.”
In regard to the Youth Center, James Bradley, EBCI Secretary of Education, related to Council, “As far as the Youth Center goes, we’re finishing up a master plan to do a new building that will be constructed right behind the old building. Then, we’ll keep that back playground for the younger kids and tear down the front building, and they’ll build an activity area like basketball courts and stuff like that for the older kids.”
Cherokee County – Snowbird Rep. Adam Wachacha said discussions on the old high school property have been going on for years, and he’s ready to see movement. “I’m ready to move forward with it. I know there’s 20 acres there that we could do a lot of things with. There’s been a lot of ideas.”
He referenced the Rocky Top Sports World complex in Gatlinburg, Tenn. that hosts both indoor and outdoor sports events and tournaments. “We talk about wanting to do more sporting events here in Cherokee, but we’re busy spinning our wheels and we’re not putting nothing on the ground. I think we’re ready to do that. There’s a lot of opportunity there to bring more tourism into Cherokee. That’s a prime piece of property that could be used for that very purpose.”
Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke stated, “You know, that 20 acres is prime real estate – commercially. Over the years, we’ve discussed just about a little bit of everything to put up there.”
EBCI Secretary of Commerce Dr. Mickey Duvall agreed and said, “As you look at that site, it’s prime retail.”
It was decided to hear various plans for the site during the Planning Board meeting set for Monday, July 17.