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Saturday, September 25, 2010

New life in these old halls


V.O. Dobbins Sr. Complex dedicated

‘My father would be so proud of this historic moment. It’s an emotional moment, it really is.’
— Van Dobbins Jr.

Photos by Erica Yoon —, Calvin Sneed -, and Rev. Roger Mills - AHERN Magazine

KINGSPORT — The dedication of the newly renovated and expanded V.O. Dobbins Sr. Complex on Friday brought forth much applause, many thanks and moments of nostalgia and emotion for those in attendance — an event years in the making and one some say was long overdue for the Riverview community.

Kingsport held a ribbon cutting for the V.O. Dobbins Sr. Complex Friday afternoon, essentially wrapping up an $8.2 million renovation and expansion project that has occurred at the facility during the past 15 months.
Built in 1951 and named after abolitionist Frederick Douglass, the building served as Kingsport’s “blacks only” school — Douglass High School — until 1966 when students were assimilated into all-white schools throughout Kingsport. The city then turned the facility into a community center, renaming it after longtime Douglass Principal Van Dobbins Sr.
Today, the complex is home to the Upper East Tennessee Human Development Agency, nine nonprofit agencies and the Douglass Alumni Association.

“My father would be so proud of this historic moment. It’s an emotional moment, it really is,” said Van Dobbins Jr., son of the notable Douglass principal. “I’m overwhelmed and elated with emotion when I think of how much has happened in such a short period of time. (The new complex) will address so many issues that are needed in this community.
“I see this transformation and to say I’ve been a part of helping this happen — it is so rewarding and a great blessing to be a part of this.”
City leaders for years have discussed renovating the V.O. Dobbins facility, but nothing came to pass until Kingsport put the project on its capital improvements list more than three years ago, earmarking $8.4 million toward the project.

“To say it needed repairs was an understatement,” said Mayor Dennis Phillips. “It’s hard to really believe this is finally happening. We’ve talked about it and talked about it and thought about doing repairs and get the building restored. I don’t think in the wildest dreams anyone thought it would be this way.”

The total V.O. Dobbins Sr. Complex renovation and expansion project came in at $8.27 million — around $200,000 under the original cost. A $1 million Riverview community room, funded by the Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority, is to be finished by October.
Overall, the interior of the original 46,000-square-foot facility received a fresh coat of paint, new drop ceilings, new windows, new carpet and tile, new and renovated showers and restrooms, a new elevator, and a repaved parking lot with new curbs and gutters. The original school colors of blue and gold are featured throughout the old facility.

Kingsport added around 50,000 square feet of space, including another gym, an education wing, a community room for the Douglass Alumni Association, and a three-story nonprofit wing. The floor of the old gym has been refinished with new air conditioning and Plexiglas on the side of the seating. A space has been created at the gym for a game room and fitness area, which could include foosball, air hockey and a pool table.
Earlier this month, the Douglass Alumni Association put the call out to the community to donate old Douglass and Riverview memorabilia for one of the three display cases in the complex. On Friday, that case contained many old pictures from the school and neighborhood, a couple of annuals, two albums, some classroom notes and school letters.
Calvin Sneed, administrator of the Douglass Alumni Association Web site, has worked behind the scenes for years in preserving the history and legacy of the school.
“To say this is a wonderful day, a big day ... that’s an understatement,” Sneed said. “You all have been the rock that I’ve leaned on to get here, and it’s been a long journey. Riverview has been through a lot.”

Following Friday’s event, the city unveiled the new Douglass Historical Marker from the Tennessee Historical Commission — the Model City’s 10th such marker. The marker was planted outside the complex and includes the history of the school on both sides — one of three such double-sided markers in East Tennessee.

The Douglass Alumni Association also held a dedication for the new trophy case in the Douglass Community Room. The case now holds about 40 of the old Douglass High School trophies from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. The Douglass trophies had been stored in a back room in the Dobyns-Bennett High School dome until being rediscovered a few years ago.
Sneed made a surprise announcement to those in attendance for the trophy dedication, noting that four more Douglass trophies had been found this week and that two newly commissioned football championship trophies would be going into the display case, marking the state championships of 1946 and 1948.