By Collin Brooks
A Taiwanese businessman made a trip to Johnson City last week, reciprocating a trip that Johnson City officials made to his country and China just a few weeks prior.
Jeff Hsu, CEO of Integration Sports, visited the area and was escorted by city officials on a tour of Johnson City. That included a stop at an undisclosed location, which ETSU and city officials feel could be renovated into a new sports science institution. Media was neither notified or invited on the tour.
Also, during Hsu’s stop on Monday, July 17, he visited with Johnson City School Superintendent Dr. Steve Barnett. Hsu requested the meeting to gather information on the possibility of foreign exchange students from Taiwan finding a home in Johnson City.
That topic was discussed during a city and school system facilities meeting on Tuesday afternoon.
Johnson City City Manager Pete Peterson said that a group from Taiwan is very interested in sending their children to Johnson City in order to gain an American education and athletic training.
“The system over there, you either focus on education or you focus on athletics,” said Peterson, who noted preliminary discussion involved about six exchange students. “There are no student athletes in Taiwan and China. You’re a student or you’re an athlete.
“…Are we talking 10,000 kids? No… What we’re going to get are those athletes who are elite athletes who need some very refined, specific training in order to go to the Olympics or to Wimbledon or the (PGA) Tour,” he said.
Peterson noted that it would help those students become “Westernized through an American high school. He said that could increase the students’ opportunity to get American college scholarships.
“That allows them to stay over here and get a better education and better training for what athletic endeavor they choose to pursue,” he said.
Peterson said that there are only 11 grades in Taiwan, so you may see some kids come in during their 8th and 9th grade years or they could come in for a year.
Johnson City Mayor David Tomita said there are two types of parents that want to send their children to Johnson City. Some with Olympic hopes and a large group that wants to see their children over here to become more rounded.
“I don’t think we were aware of the magnitude of the other group,” Tomita said, speaking about the group of parents who want to send their children to Johnson City for a more well-rounded education, including athletics. “And it is well funded.”
Peterson echoed that thought by mentioning that, “They talk about $1 million dollars like we talk about $200.”
Barnett said that was the part that interested him when he and Hsu met on Monday afternoon.
“The thing that was interesting that I learned yesterday was the amount of money that they have, and that the parents want to give their children both options. Because they don’t have that in China and Taiwan,” Barnett said. “So they are wanting to send their children over here so they’re not pigeon-holed into either academics or sports; they can have better American options for their kids.”
The initial discussion surrounded only a handful of kids, but that could grow according to city officials.
“Ultimately, six is a starting point,” Tomita said. “Ultimately, that is expected to grow significantly.”
Tomita mentioned the diversity of programs that Johnson City has to offer, with the Olympic Training Facility and a great school system, “makes Johnson City more attractive than Charlotte,” he said.
However, one question that still hasn’t been answered is whether the athletes would be able to compete on Science Hill athletic teams. Barnett said that was something that he would have to discuss with Science Hill athletic director Keith Turner.
In the near future, the Johnson City officials said they will have to look at school policy as it pertains to exchange students and they could look at other changes to their policy.
An out-of-country tuition was sort of laughed at, but Peterson said that isn’t such a far-fetched idea.
“As long as it’s reasonable, it wouldn’t be a big impediment to what we are talking about,” Peterson said.
Also discussed during the meeting was the idea of buying the vacant church property that is landlocked by the Science Hill campus. Assistant City Manager Charlie Stahl said that he and the churches real estate agent, local realtor Greg Cox, had preliminary talks. And while no exact figure was discussed, it could be in the high $200,000 area.
We could get the buses in one line, instead of stacking them and Peterson mentioned that it would add additional parking for the gym.
The committee also looked at the possibility of additions to elementary schools in the system to accommodate more students. The consensus from school officials is that if the system needs to add seats in elementary, the easiest add-ons would come at Woodland and Lake Ridge. One is on the far east side of town, the other on the west side.
One of the preliminary ideas thrown around was moving the playground at Lake Ridge to the tract on the hill and adding to the school in that area. Barnett said he believed that would add a grade level at the school.
They asked for the feasibility of the project, admitting that Woodland would be very easy. At Lake Ridge, school officials said moving the playground to the top of the hill and adding to the building in that direction would be the easiest course of expansion.
Peterson said that he believed projects like that would cost about $6 to $7 million, but said it would depend on the number of classrooms they wanted to use. In the last few years, the city added eight classrooms to Indian Trail for close to $1 million.