Letter: Human, educational value of Arrowmont can’t be measured

Aug. 08, 2013 @ 11:25 PM

Editor:

Over 100 years ago a school was begun in Gatlinburg under the guidance of the Pi Beta Phi Fraternity. A few years later the Fraternity asked the community for funds to help purchase property to build a school. 

Without the financial commitment the school would be closed. At the last minute, the people of the area came forward with the funds. Additionally, land was acquired from a local family.  

The funds and land were put into the Pi Beta Phi name and the school’s construction began. During the Great Depression they helped local families sell their handmade crafts to support the families. What a debt of gratitude we owe these loving ladies.

We can never know where this community would be today without their selfless contribution and dedication.  

But let us not forget the families that brought in the funds and the land. These were the people who sacrificed so that their children would receive an education. They wanted the best for their families, and had a vision of what quality education would bring to their community. We owe a debt of gratitude to them as well.

Several years ago, the Pi Phis wanted to part ways with Arrowmont. After thoughtful negotiations, the school will stay on the property through 2015.  

Now Arrowmont finds itself in the throws of the sale of this invaluable land and its historical buildings. The Pi Phis plan to sell to a developer for an amount much more than the probable market value. The exact intent of the purchaser is not yet known and Arrowmont is once again finding itself fighting to stay alive.

While it may be legal for them to sell this property and take the funds elsewhere, is it ethical. Yes, we as a community needed their help to get the school started and have had the use of the property for the education of children and adults. Yes, the “rent” was low. But maybe there should not have been “rent” at all. Maybe the land should have been titled to Arrowmont in the first place.  

As a volunteer at Arrowmont, I see the benefits of this school as it is today. I see the children who come to Arrowmont to work at a craft.  Perhaps a craft that their ancestors practiced.  Perhaps the craft that saved their family from total poverty many years ago.  

Gatlinburg is building a sports complex using public funds. Indeed a worthy effort that will be a draw for tourism and a place for visitors and children to enjoy. But what about Arrowmont? Increased tax revenues are critical to the lifeblood of any community, but the human and educational value of sustaining Arrowmont could be said to be incalculable.

Arrowmont should rightfully be our school. It was bought by the sweat of our ancestors. This school should belong to the residents of Sevier County. 

Are we going to again wait for the last minute to save Arrowmont?  

Debi Veranth

Gatlinburg