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Thursday, November 20, 2008

NEW UPDATE: V.O.Dobbins/Douglass Renovation Still A Slow Process

So far, there's one phrase that describes the proposed renovations for the V.O. Dobbins Community Center in Kingsport.

Hurry up and wait. But that may be changing in the next three months.

The V.O. Dobbins Community Center is the former Douglass High School building on Louis Street in Kingsport's historic Riverview Neighborhood.

Now that the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen has approved funding the $7 million dollar renovation and conversion of the historic building into Kingsport's Non-Profit Center (to still be named the V.O. Dobbins Sr. Community Center), the process to improve the building will undergo several procedures.

"Most everything is moving along on a timetable," says Dineen West of Cain, Rash and West Architects, the firm hired by the City of Kingsport to oversee the redesign of the building. "There are still lots of things that still need to be ironed out for the preliminary work, and then we can get down to scheduling specific things to be done." Mrs. West has been working closely with the non-profit agencies that will occupy the renovated center once it opens, to determine what their individual needs will be in the building.

"If everything falls into place," says Chris McCartt, Kingsport's Development Services Managerent Services Manager, "we plan to bid the contract out in January, with a planned construction start date sometime in March."

Meanwhile, other processes are looming on the horizon. "First, there's receiving permission from the city to release us to do the architectural drawings, which is a 3-month turnaround period," says Mrs. West. All of that is keyed, she says, to how many people will still be occupying the building up to any demolition date.

In Riverview right now, there are signs indicating the property where the historic Riverview Homes once stood and the Dobbins center, that say the land underneath both, are being considered for a zoning change. Sources within the city say, that zoning will be for a village concept. "That rezoning will solve a bunch of problems for us if we can get that zoning change," says Mrs. West.

A recent meeting on the re-zoning of Riverview into a village concept will be covered in a separate story soon.

Closing James Street beside the old Douglass School Auditorium is also a priority. "Four homes have been taken down on James Street," says Mrs. West. "Once demolition begins, we're pretty much going to have to use James Street as a staging area for the demolition company, and then the construction company." The loss of those homes has left another open field in the neighborhood right now, in addition to the lot where the Riverview Homes once stood. Mrs. West says, the bare spots are only temporary.

Proceeding in order of importance, there is what Mrs. West describes as "a major relocation" of utilities that serve the area. "There is a huge electrical feed that we have to move before demolition and construction starts, along with a major gas line. We cannot start even a partial demolition until those utlities are relocated."


"Next comes a new and much larger electrical transformer," she says. "We're also talking with the Kingsport Power Company in that area, too. That new transformer is needed to handle the extra electrical load the tenants in the renovated building will need."

Once those improvements are made, Mrs. West says, at least some demolition could start, but with a few limitations. "We have to decide whether it's a partial tear-down with just the auditorium," she says, "or a full demolition of the auditorium, the asphalt and concrete parking lot, and the wall between the auditorium and the south wing of the building, and the Louis Street wall of the gymnasium that would connect the old gym and the new proposed one. There's also tearing out the wall of the classroom that will connect to the new classroom wing. A full demolition at this point would be a major construction job, and our plan is to have all the other items in place first."

"From a design perspective," she says, "the building is going to look fantastic when we get it all done. We just have to do what I call the "homework" items first, 100 different things that all add up to a beautiful building. Homework comes first, then the "fun stuff" comes in afterward."