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Sunday, March 9, 2008

V.O. Dobbins Center-Douglass School in line for $8 Million Overhaul

Construction is estimated to begin in September and take between 11 and 13 months to complete.

Contributed art
Kingsport officials have budgeted $5.6 million in city funds and plan to apply for $2.2 million in federal funds to make the overhaul of the V.O. Dobbins Center a reality. An artist’s conception of the project is shown above.



KINGSPORT — The V.O. Dobbins Center — one of Kingsport’s historic buildings and a landmark in the South Central community — will be receiving an $8 million overhaul and expansion later this year.
The V.O. Dobbins Center is a city-owned community center located between Louis and Wheatley streets in Riverview. The building served as Kingsport’s “blacks only” school from 1951 to 1966.
City and community leaders have talked about renovating the building for years, but recently the city put the project on its five-year capital improvement plan. City officials have budgeted $5.6 million in city funds and plan to apply for $2.2 million in federal funds to make the project a reality.
Chris McCartt, assistant to the city manager, said once the Board of Mayor and Aldermen approves the funding for the project, the final design and state fire marshal review will take place. Construction is estimated to begin in September and take between 11 and 13 months to complete.
During a recent BMA retreat, Alderman Larry Munsey said the project has been talked about for at least the last nine years, probably longer. “This is something that needs to be done, and we ought to do it.”
The project will involve demolishing 13,600 square feet of the existing building, renovating the remaining 46,000 square feet, and adding just over 50,000 square feet of new space. Conceptual drawings show a new 30,900-square-foot nonprofit center (a smaller, one-story nonprofit building is shown beside it).
McCartt said the city has talked with the American Red Cross and the United Way about being the anchor tenants for these new buildings, which would also have room for additional nonprofit organizations.
“We’ve talked with some (other nonprofits) but we don’t have a definite answer from those folks,” McCartt said.
Other entities likely to locate in the new facility could include the Carver Library (which was located in the Riverview Apartments prior to their demolition), the Douglass High School reunion organization, Head Start, Contact Concern, the Literacy Council and Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Alderman Ken Marsh recently asked if the tenants would carry the cost of building the new addition, and City Manager John Campbell has said they would.
Plans also show a 9,000-squarefoot, two-story addition and a new 10,000-square-foot gym. The new gym would be regulation size with space for bleachers.
City leaders envision using this gym in connection with AAU and USSSA basketball tournaments. Campbell has said several times in the recent past, Kingsport is “under-gymed” as a city.
“There are some pieces of the existing V.O. Dobbins Center that will be coming down, some areas of the facility that are beyond repair. To go in and fix those up would be more costly than to accommodate something new,” McCartt said, noting one such area would be the auditorium. “The auditorium is in pretty bad shape. It has issues with water and mold.”
Renovation work on the existing facility will first be to make the building more energy efficient — new windows, restroom fixtures, HVAC equipment. Then, the architects plan to work with the Upper East Tennessee Human Development Agency (currently housed in the building) on the aesthetics and maintenance of the interior, such as new carpet and tile and other general improvements, McCartt said.
A new playground is called for near the existing ball field, and James Street would be closed and converted into a parking lot. The plan calls for 153 parking spaces to be built for the center.
City leaders see the V.O. Dobbins renovation as a tie-in to the HOPE VI project currently under way in the Riverview community. The HOPE VI project calls for replacing Riverview Apartments with 32 single-family homes and building six additional houses within the Riverview community.
Kingsport received $11.9 million in HOPE VI grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development about 18 months ago. The $30-plus million project also calls for building 24 affordable home ownership units in the Sherwood/Hiwassee area of town.
Campbell has said if Kingsport does well with the HOPE VI project, the results would increase the city’s opportunity to get future HOPE VI funds.
“You’re making HUD look awful good, and you don’t want to commit to something that you don’t carry out,” he said.