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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Douglass School Renovations Update


I spoke recently with the Kingsport Housing Authority about renovations planned for Douglass School. After years of putting it off and sending allocate money elsewhere, the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen have finally decided to move ahead with major renovations at the V.O. Dobbins Community Center and the Douglass School building. The cost of the project is projected at more than seven million dollars, some of which may be coming from the HOPE VI revitilization grant, that's also going to tear down the Riverview Apartments and replace them with new single and multi-family homes.

Right now, the Douglass School building is being used for nine head start classes that meet in the former classrooms; the Dobbins Community Center, which is mostly in the old Douglass Gym, the Upper East Tennessee Human Development Agency, an office of Kingsport Parks and Recreation, and the Neighbor Service Center. Areas that are not being used right now, include the auditorium and its balcony, both of which seat about 300 people total, and the stage, which is a full-service platform that has capabilities to light and sound professional productions.

Also not used to its full capacity, is the former Douglass School cafeteria, which is basically a storage area now.

To be added to the present Douglass School building after the new renovation, is a non-profit wing that will house agencies like the American Red Cross and the United Way of Kingsport. Smaller non-profit organizations will also be moved into the school building, including offices and meeting space for the Douglass Alumni Association.

A second gymnasium is also on the drawing board, which is to be larger than the current 0ne.

The auditorium will be redone and brought up to current city code standards, with possibility the addition of the professional lighting and sound systems it used to have.

"We're excited about renovating the Douglass School building," says CeeGee McCord, deputy executive director at the Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority. "There is so much history in that building, and it is so well loved by neighborhood residents, that there's just no way to do a renovation of the Riverview Apartments, without including the school building that has served as one of the major anchors of the neighborhood."

To get a perspective of what the renovation will look like, take a look at the picture above.

The view is from the Eastman side, looking at what we always considered the back of the building. To the right of the covered opening in front, in the center of the picture is what we knew as the Band Room with the Douglass Auditorium directly behind it; behind the covered opening is the old Douglass Cafeteria, and to the back of that are the former Douglass classrooms, with the gym to the right at the top of the picture.

"We have thought about keeping the original facade of the building," says Mrs. McCord, "and with the extra square footage, we'll end up with several new entrances to the building, in addition to improvements to the entrances we have now."

The new additions are the new entrance to the left with the flag waving in front, and the second gymnasium on the far right, attached to the old building. It's generally viewed that the new gym on the right will take up space where the tennis courts are now, down to the current outside jungle gym. It's hard to think the new entrance and the building that will attach to the current auditorium and old Band Room will not take James Street, between Louis Street and Wheatley Street, given the size of the old building in the picture and the size of the new addition in the picture above.

"Right now, we are not anticipating closing James Street," says Mrs. McCord. "We do have the purchase options on two houses that border that street (the house on the corner of Louis and James, and the old McMiller house that sits empty on the corner of Wheatley and James).

"Nothing has been decided yet, and we don't feel there would be additional options on property near those. The City of Kingsport would be responsible for closing James Street, and nothing has been discussed."

"We are also very excited to provide the Douglass Alumni Association office space," says Mrs. McCord. "That organization is dedicated to keeping the historic Douglass spirit alive in the community, and we're looking forward to the chance to help the alumni display and present the history of the school and the neighborhood, and getting photos to blow up and display."