Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A New Beginning...The V.O. Dobbins Sr. Complex Nears Completion

What some residents have called the Crown Jewel of Riverview is almost complete.

What began as a project two years ago to turn the old Douglass High School into Kingsport's non-profit center, is targeting a completion date, with the finishing touches being applied for a summer opening.

NEW! Click here to see the slideshow of the construction being 90 per cent finished on the Dobbins Complex here.

Click here to see a slideshow update of the V.O. Dobbins Sr. Complex.

Click here to access downloadable updated pictures of the V.O. Dobbins Sr. Complex.

"Right now, the project is indeed wrapping up," says Chris McCartt, assistant to the city manager. "There's just some finishing work being done throughout the building. Work on the Riverview Community Center started late, so its completion date is in the fall."

So far along is the complex, that completion dates are coming into focus, and with that comes move-in times. McCartt says, the schedules are based on getting clearances from building inspectors and the fire marshall, and are subject to change.

"The schedule we're looking at," he says, "is that the non-profit offices will be complete around the first of June. I'm guessing that, once punch lists are complete and final walk-throughs are done, the folks that can, will be able to move into their non-profit offices in the 3-story tower around the 2nd week of June. A lot of they can't move until their current leases expire, so it may be an on-going process."

"The existing building with the gymnasiums looks to be complete around the first week of July," McCartt says, "leading up to around the 3rd week of July. "The wood floor is now installed in the new gymnasium, the bleacher seats are going in, the lines and logos are on the floor, and, with just a small amount of touch-up, it's ready for basketball."

A quick look around the old Douglass gymnasium, still shows some work to be finished. New windows are installed, and the new air conditioning system was installed, just after a new roof was put on the entire building. The finishing of the old gym is also tied to the rest of the building, to be complete between the first week and third week of July.

"The Douglass Room itself, for sure, unless something comes up, will be ready by the first week of July. That room is coming right along," he noted. "In a month, work should be wrapping up there, and it's progressing nicely. There's some touch-up work and that's really all that's left. Looking at what is left to do, I anticipate the Parks and Rec staff to move in around the same time."

And, after years of meeting in people's homes and various church fellowship halls, the Douglass Alumni Association will finally have its own office, to be located inside the Douglass Community Room, where its board meetings will be held. The office will have computers to be furnished free of charge by the city. The office is just inside the Louis Street entrance to the building. "Around the first of July, the Douglass Alumni Association can occupy its office and the Douglass Community Room," McCartt says.

"Plans are for the community room to be available for board meetings for the Alumni Association and the other tenants in the non-profit tower, by making reservations with Parks and Rec, just as the other meeting areas around town are booked now. That should be easy in the V.O. Dobbins Complex, because Parks and Rec will have its office right there beside the Douglass Community Room."

"The classroom spaces for Headstart on Wheatley Street will be complete around the third week of July," says McCartt. "That should be just in time for the classrooms to be open for the teachers to move their stuff into, before school starts."

McCartt says, that second week of July, will probably be the time of the busiest activity.

"That will be the time that I think you're going to see a lot of Community Caring Days, where folks will be helping the tenants move into their offices," he says. "That will probably last until the end of July."

That leads up to what promises to be a grand ribbon-cutting ceremony for the complex.

"The date for that is still up in the air," says McCartt, "but for planning purposes, I would like think around the second or third week of August, we could do the formal ribbon-cutting ceremony. "We obviously want to have the entire building open for a little while with all tenants in their spots, to let them get unpacked, sort their stuff and have some days of operation to get an idea of the flow of the building. Before we cut the ribbon and have an Open House, we need to see the people flow in the facility, to make any corrections."

It seems like just yesterday..

This was the picture of what we can now call the "old" V.O. Dobbins Community Center. A building with many memories, most of them good. A home away from home. A school where the minds of young African-American children formed opinions about the rest of the world, long before television, tapes and Twitter.

In later years, it was also... a building with a gymnasium that had heat, but no air conditioning.. most classrooms closed off to the neighborhood for the most part.. and a seriously leaking auditorium, with enough asbestos in the walls and ceiling to poison an army..

And a community.

"The story of the V.O. Dobbins Complex is an amazing story," McCartt says. "It's a project that, a few years ago, we scratched our heads and wondered, 'what are we going to do with this old, leaky, drafty, rundown safety hazard of a building?' And now, consider what the NEW V.O. Dobbins Complex means.. a second gymnasium, a renovated first gymnasium, an office tower, new classrooms, a community room for meetings, banquets and neighborhood events, and a building that is safer now, than it's ever been."

"That time is here.. right now," McCartt says. "After many years, it is now within grasp, and I think everybody is, to say the least, excited and ready for the dust to be settled once and for all."

"Everybody.. building tenants and community residents, anxious to get back to life as usual."