KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) — The defending state AAA boys basketball champion Dobyns-Bennett Indians will likely start their season in an unfamiliar home venue due to structural issues at the Buck Van Huss Dome.

Kingsport City Schools (KCS) Assistant Superintendent Andy True told News Channel 11 Friday the system expects to upgrade the former Sullivan North High School gym to prepare it for use by D-B’s basketball and wrestling teams this coming season.

The decision comes a month after KCS first closed the dome following a local firm’s initial discovery that the dome’s upper wooden rings had dried out and become less dense over time.

Dobyns-Bennett volleyball in the Buck Van Huss Dome, which is closed pending a structural study. (Photo: WJHL)

National consultant Dome Technologies’ final report, expected in “the coming days,” could green light an immediate return to safe use, but their initial findings don’t suggest that outcome.

“We’re not getting any indication that when we get this report back from them we’re going to get the all-clear to go back in there,” True said.

The 55-year-old wooden dome, one of few of its kind left nationwide that uses a wooden “Lamella” style construction, is home to D-B’s basketball, volleyball and wrestling teams and is also used for wellness classes.

That hasn’t been the case this school year. The volleyball team is playing its home games at John Sevier Middle School and wellness students are meeting outside and using the Kingsport Civic Auditorium.

Structural testing in advance of a campus-wide roofing project led to the initial discovery, closure of any activities and enlistment of Dome Technologies, True said.

“We have not received any initial indication that would lead us to believe we’re going to be able to immediately go back and utilize that space in the dome so the closure of the dome is continuing,” he said.

“Because of the timing of all of this and when we would need to have things in place for the basketball season, we have gone ahead and really moved forward to execute our contingency plan to renovate the former Sullivan North gymnasium.”

KCS purchased Sullivan North several years ago with plans to convert it to a middle school by this school year. It would replace John Sevier Middle School, which would then be converted into an elementary. An initial strategic plan called for Sullivan North’s renovation to be completed in 2021 and middle school students to occupy it during the school year that began last month.

None of that has transpired yet, and the KCS board last spring rejected a $23.6 million bid to renovate Sullivan North, and the building is empty except for its CTE wing, which the Tennessee Center for Applied Technology is using for classes. True said the conversion to a middle school is “currently on hold” as KCS awaits completion of a facilities study.

North’s gym lacks air conditioning, needs its floor refinished and ceiling tiles and lights replaced, and the outer concourse and concession stand need refurbishing. True said bids will be opened Sept. 14 for a job that will need to get done pretty quickly as last year’s home schedule began in mid-December. The KCS board has set a called meeting for Sept. 16 to consider approval of a bid.

Renovating the gym will provide more than just a temporary home for the Indians’ winter sports teams, True said. Already, KCS is keeping the school’s athletic fields mowed and those are in use by the community.

“The thought here is when we can have the gym done that adds to the inventory of athletic opportunities that we have for the community,” he said.