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Bristol Virginia schools explore using mall for technical school  June 7, 2017 – 09:21 am
Education in Columbus, OH - The Columbus Dispatch

BRISTOL, Va. — Bristol Virginia school officials are considering turning the vacant Bristol Mall into a career and technical school, Superintendent Keith Perrigan said Tuesday.

“We are not in any type of negotiations, ” Perrigan told the Bristol Herald Courier. “Our School Board wants to improve the amount and types of career and technical offerings for our students, and in looking at those options, we have to consider a lot of things, but the mall would be a great consideration for us.”

Perrigan has spoken with the mall owners, Sunstar Keshav LLC, a New Jersey-based real estate investment firm, who want to fill the property, he said.

The last remaining store inside the Bristol Mall, KSS School Supplies, will close Aug. 31, and Ashwin Desai, one of the mall’s owners, said earlier that it will be locked after that.

The mall property includes 37 acres on Gate City Highway currently valued at $2.24 million and the buildings are valued at $14.6 million, according to city tax records. In March 2016, Sunstar Keshav LLC purchased the 486, 000-square-foot mall in an online auction for $2.6 million.

While neither the building nor the property is currently up for sale, Perrigan said he plans to stay in contact with the mall owners in hopes that the property will eventually become affordable.

The mall’s owners couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

“I know that they would love to work with a school system, ” Perrigan said. “Until we have a firm commitment from the School Board and City Council, it’s all hopes and dream for now.”

The school system currently offers several career and technical courses, including culinary arts, auto mechanics and agriculture, at Virginia High School.

Perrigan said what makes the mall property an ideal space is the way it’s currently set up and how it could be used as a work-based experience for students and the public.

“You have the Sears auto mechanic center, which could be used for auto mechanic classes, ” Perrigan said. “You have the restaurant that could be used for culinary arts, along with all the storefronts that could be used for marketing, along with the salon for cosmetology. The spaces could also be used as business models to work with actual customers and not just classrooms.”

Tyrone Foster, vice chairman of the Bristol Virginia School Board, said he supports the idea of turning the mall into a career and technical school, but said there is currently another priority.

“The site is a prime location, ” Foster said. “It would be ideal to find someone to partner with on the project. Right now, we are focusing on our aging elementary schools, but [we] have this on the back burner.”

Perrigan said the school system has been looking at moving from four elementary schools to two, which would mean closing three schools and building a new one.

“I will be presenting to City Council on Aug. 22 [a proposal] about doing a construction project for a new elementary school, ” Perrigan said. “The site is still to be determined.”

School board members originally voted in July 2013 to recommend building a new elementary school while closing three older, smaller schools. At that time, the three schools that would be closed were Highland View, Stonewall Jackson and Washington-Lee elementary schools.


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