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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Peak Construction on V.O. Dobbins Reached; Most Work Winding Down

Renovations to the V.O. Dobbins Complex have reached their peak.

It's all downhill now, moving fast towards a July 1st completion.

To take a slideshow tour of the V.O. Dobbins Non-Profit Tower, please click here.

"The non-profit tower now has its carpet laid in all the offices," says architect Dineen West, who shared update information with the Douglass Website recently. "The punch list has been completed, any additions or deletions have been made, and finishing touches are in place with the little modifications that will make the tower tenant-ready soon."

"Each floor has a break room, and each office also has a break room that tenants will share. Those are kitchen-type areas with cabinets, drawers, spaces for microwaves and other electric appliances."

"All the wiring is in, phone lines are mostly in place, water is running, lights are on, and the basic construction is over," she says. "Everything has been checked, and will stand some re-checking over the next couple of months."

Will there be early occupancy for the tower BEFORE the July 1st completion date?
Perhaps in April or May?

"Right now, we don't know if the fire marshall will allow us to occupy a portion of the building without having the rest of the work done," says Mrs. West. "No decision has been made yet if that will be possible while workers are still hammering."

One thing's for certain. The tower that will house the Greater Kingsport United Way, Mountain States Speech and Hearing, the American Legion, Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and other non-profit Kingsport agencies is a "towering" presence in the Riverview community, standing in the location where, just over a year ago, the old Douglass School auditorium stood.

To take a slideshow of the new V.O. Dobbins gym, and a nostalgic tour of renovations to the old gym, please click here.

Elsewhere, the wood floor is being installed on the floor of the new gymnasium.

"The new Douglass School colors of blue and gold really stand out in that gym," Mrs. West says. "The off-white color really makes the blue and gold prominent in the can't help but notice it. What will really set that room off, is when we get the gym bleachers in, with the reminder of the school that called the building home for years. The bleachers will alternate blue and gold, and they will really add a splash of color to the room."

The new gym floor being laid down is a maple color, and it will have blue lines painted for the basketball boundaries. "That will really tie in with the overall theme of the room," Mrs. West says.

One other noticeable item in the new gym, is the signed beam in a prominent corner of the building. Many Douglass alumni and Riverview residents signed their names into history during the weeks the beam was available for signing, in the hallway of the old Douglass School. The beam can be seen from most parts of the gym, but may require binoculars to read the individual signatures.

"The estimated target for completion of both gyms is the end of March," says Mrs. West, "but it's kind of difficult to pinpoint exactly what the final timeframe will be. "The contractor is also working hard on the renovation of the old gym. It's had the heating, but now it's got air conditioning, something it's never had before. We have 'to do' dates that we go over with the contractor every two weeks, and within that, the sub-contractors their their own 'to do' dates."

The second floor of the old Douglass High School is a busy construction place right now, too. When school was in session, one part of the second floor housed the library.

"The accounting suite for the Upper East Tennessee Human Development Agency and its conferencing suite are in accelerated construction mode," says Mrs. West. "Progress has been thorough, but slowed in that area, because there are still open offices with people there. Other renovation projects on the second floor have been done in phases, while we work around with people in their offices."

And then, what Douglass Alumni, the people of Riverview, South Central Kingsport and the surrounding community consider the "crown jewel" of the entire renovation project.

The Douglass Community Room. We found out, it's a little project area of its own.

To take a slideshow tour of the V.O. Dobbins Douglass Community Room under construction, please click here.

"We are shooting for the end of March, the first of April for completion of the Douglass Room," Mrs. West says.

"It's got a unique arch in the ceiling, plus columns that wrap around the existing steel support beams," she says. "If you'll remember, to support the upper floor, we had to install two 2,000-foot beams in the ceiling. They're long beams that go the length of the room, to allow for open space on the first floor for the entire room. Those now have a decorative covering, and so do the columns that support them. There will be an accent band that will be darker blue. In that room, we decided to go with the Douglass School colors of darker gold and darker blue, and there will be a darker blue accent band that will go around the perimeter of the room."

"The first of 3 display cases will be black, and the carpet inside is an upbeat navy blue and gold," says Mrs. West. "It's located into the wall of the Douglass Alumni Association office, facing out into the bigger room. When we get all the parts and pieces in for the carpet and the custom trophy cases, it will really set the Douglass Community Room off, really accent it.

"The larger of the 3 display cases, is of a display type," she says, "for showing off school and community memorabilia. It's located into the outside wall of the Douglass Community Room, with an entrance to the room on either side of it. The wall it's in, is another of the support walls for the second floor. The other display case is into the wall of the UETHRA check-in office, as you enter the hallway from the gym. These will be heavily-used entrances and hallways because they take people from the guyms and the Louis Street entrance into the building. Two hallways will lead down to the Douglass Room."

On the wall that used to have the Douglass Auditorium on the other side of it, are two entrances to the first floor of the non-profit tower, which is there now. "The doors are there for convenience," says Mrs. West, "so that people won't have to go outside to go from the tower to the gym areas. If the non-profits have a board meeting, banquet or event that requires the room, the doors are there for access. Building maintenance people, janitors and building supervisors can also use those doors to get from one end of the building to the other.

"The one door into the Douglass Room to the Mountain States Speech and Hearing office will be rarely used; it just seemed a shame not to have a door cut through, if the folks in the non-profit tower wanted to go over to the gym or access the courtyard on their lunch hours, or walk around for exercise."

To take a slideshow tour of the V.O. Dobbins courtyard, please click here.

Speaking of the courtyard, "the sidewalks are in now, and you can get a feel for what the area will look like,' says Mrs. West. "You can now get a sense of how the proposed artwork will look, how the landscaping will fit in. There's also parking in front of it, but it's a fairly large area for outdoor events, people eating lunch, or having get-togethers."

The planter is also in, outside the non-profit tower. "Right now, we don't know if a sculpture is going in there, or a flower garden arrangement or both," she says. But the planter is there, and I'm sure the landscaper and the Arts Council are looking at that area closely, to see what fits in best there. It is the main entrance for the non-profit tower, and will see a lot of traffic."

"The well-drilling is almost complete on the Riverview Community Center for the HOPE VI homes," says Mrs. West.

It's located on the other side of the gyms, between the gyms and the football field.

"The geo-thermal wells that will heat and cool the building are so very unique. There will be 25 of those wells, which will comprise the heating and cooling for that building. KHRA (the Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority) applied for a grant for the geo-thermal wells, and they got it. That room and the Douglass Room will be approximately the same size. The time frame has that building finished around September 1st, 2 months behind everything else. Approval came late for that, and we had some catching up to do."

"The only free wall on the entire floor," she says, "is the wall of the Douglass Community Room, towards the back of the room, between the Douglass Alumni office and the catering kitchen. We had discussed with you I believe, making that wall a "Wall of Fame" for the alumni association and the community. Every other wall has either windows, doors, display cases, or something like that."

"There will also still be room for flag football, soccer and other athletics on the old Douglass Ballfield at the end of the day. "As soon as we finish the construction work on the Riverview Community Room," she says, "we will dress that area back up, paint the lines, and prepare it for the athletics it served before. The only thing missing will be baseball, there may not be room enough to hold a good homerun in the ballpark anymore."

To see a slideshow tour of the new Headstart classrooms and UETHRA offices, please click here.

One thing not touched on in the interview with Mrs. West, is the new entrance for Headstart and the new office building and classrooms for the UETHRA employees. Columns are in place now at the former Douglass School rear entrance, often a neglected area of the building. It's now a showcase entrance to what used to be the back door. Oddly enough, dozens of Douglass School children used to race out that door to the school playground for lunch and outdoor, 44 years after the school closed, little children will once again race through the doors, bound for whatever educational opportunities await them.

"When you get into deadlines, many things can slow down the progress of any project," says Mrs. West. "The weather had been a factor, with all the rains of the fall, and the snows of the winter. July 1st sounds like a long time away, but in the reality of the construction world, it's just around the corner..all of a sudden, it's here. We don't really want to tell people that the building, or parts of it, will open early, and then some little glitch sets the move-in back. The contractors and the individual sub-contractors have been working regular hours, and then weekends and holidays, even working at night, to try and stay ahead."

All told, the renovated V.O. Dobbins Complex, with the Douglass Alumni Office and the Community Room, the center of a showplace for the community, the city of Kingsport, Upper East Tennessee and the rest of the state and region as a whole.

"It's been a long time coming and a longer time in the discussion stage," Mrs. West says, "but I think it's going to be worth it. It will be a building to be proud of."

For downloadable pictures of the V.O. Dobbins Complex renovations, please click here.