Historic Knoxville High School
Come 2017, the hippest place in Knoxville might just be where your grandma lives.
Family Pride is restoring the venerable old Knoxville High School building on East Fifth Avenue and turning it into 75 senior living apartments with the kind of amenities you’d expect to find only in large cities—or perhaps on vacation.
Although there will be an on-site staff available 24/7, this will be a lifestyle-focused community rather than a healthcare-focused assisted living facility. Family Pride general manager Rick Dover says that he’s planning a full slate of services including gourmet meals (possibly with a monthly visit from a celebrity chef), full transportation, housekeeping, daily wellness programs, spa services, and an on-site museum, for starters. “This is where you want to come to live if you’re growing less enamored of driving, cooking, and cleaning, but you want to be part of a really cool community of active seniors who are out doing things,” Dover says.
The museum will honor the old high school, whose alumni association is enthusiastic and whose history includes such well-known graduates as actress Patricia Neal, actor John Cullum, and author James Agee. It will offer rotating exhibits curated by the association and will include an outdoor public park around the school’s famous Doughboy Statue, dedicated in 1922 to honor World War I veterans.
Another exciting feature of the new development is that the old school attic—which was once used for Army R.O.T.C. training and actually included an indoor rifle range, “if you can believe that,” Dover says—is being converted into six studio apartments for local working artists, who will be able to rent the spaces at nominal cost. “We believe that adds to the richness of the living experience of our residents,” Dover says. “We’re also planning to commission works of art for the spaces outside, and we want to host regular arts activities there for the public. It’s important to us that our restoration activities be open-door.”
The Classical Revival-style building is on the National Register of Historic Places, which means there are stringent guidelines for restoration that must be followed to the letter. “Knox Heritage is a great help to us when it comes to these projects,” Dover says. “They deal with the historic preservation offices at the federal and state levels on a day-to-day basis, and we rely on their expertise.”
The building, which has not been used as a school since 1951, has remained occupied by the Knoxville Board of Education and is in sound structural shape. That means that Dover’s two main areas of focus are the historic preservation and bringing the building up to LEED environmental standards. He’s planning to include a solar farm on the roof, special water reclamation and treatment equipment, super-high-efficiency LED lighting, and locally sourced labor and materials to cut the building’s carbon footprint. “We also try to repurpose whatever original materials we can from the building, like marble and wood, in unique ways rather than throwing them away,” he says.
Currently in the design phase, construction will likely begin in spring 2015. “We’re really looking forward to this project,” Dover says. “This is a beautiful building that’s important to Knoxville history, and we believe it will be a unique property. We don’t think there’s anything else out there like it.”