Some oppose UT plan to build new laboratory on historic property

Homeowner opposes UT plan to build new laboratory on historic properties

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The homes are across Cumberland Avenue from the Hill, next to a university-owned parking lot. The homes are across Cumberland Avenue from the Hill, next to a university-owned parking lot.
"We're stuck kind of between a rock and a hard place, because we put so much love and money, probably $500,000 in the past five years into this property alone," said homeowner Rob Damseareau. "We're stuck kind of between a rock and a hard place, because we put so much love and money, probably $500,000 in the past five years into this property alone," said homeowner Rob Damseareau.
The Queen Anne style Victorian home was built in 1896. The Queen Anne style Victorian home was built in 1896.
"It's sad, because there's some sentimental value here," said Clay Connell, a UT grad student who leases at 1302 White Avenue. "It's sad, because there's some sentimental value here," said Clay Connell, a UT grad student who leases at 1302 White Avenue.

By MIKE KRAFCIK
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The state granted the University of Tennessee approval Monday to purchase three historic Queen Anne-style Victorians on White Avenue as part of the school's plan for a science building.

It's a decision that will impact 1302, 1308 and 1312 White Avenue, three homes featured on Knox Heritage's annual "Fragile 15" list of local endangered historic structures.

Knox Heritage has been working with university officials to recommend a number of alternatives to spare the homes from being demolished.

Rob Damseareau's home at 1302 White Avenue is his pride and joy.

The home was built in 1896. He's lived with his family there for close to 20 years and rents out a portion of the home to students.

The university's plans for expansion could force him out.

"We're stuck kind of between a rock and a hard place, because we put so much love and money, probably $500,000 in the past five years into this property alone. We're stuck with how do we get our money out from the property?" said Damseareau.

The three homes are located in between the Hoskins Library and UT's Jessie Harris buildings, and located across the street from the Hill.

Many of the university's science and research buildings are located are on the Hill and in close proximity to the proposed facility.

The school explored other building sites, but concluded that proximity of Jessie Harris and the Hill is critical to the successful use and function of the facility.

The four-to-five story building would house portions of microbiology, biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology, psychology, nutrition, a vivarium, shared laboratories and general-purpose classrooms.

The university says they need to double its research capabilities as part of its master plan.

"We have the faculty that who have no research lab, so they have grants they can get, but there's no place for them do that research," said David Irwin, associate vice chancellor for facilities services.

UT promised the neighborhood once before that it did not want to take over any more land in the Fort Sanders neighborhood.

For now, it appears the parking lot next to the three historic White Avenue homes will be part of the facility.

"We're certainly going to use the parking lot. That will be our first preference. And then we'll take a look at and see how much more space we'll need," said Irvin. "Are there ways to integrate the houses? Is there someone willing to move them? We certainly like that, and what else do we need to in order to give us a footprint to do for what's large enough for the research we have to do?"

In addition to demolishing the structures, UT also seeks to close 13th Avenue between Cumberland Avenue and White Avenue for the project.

Many students say they would be disheartened to see the homes go.

"These are probably my favorite ones when we pass them. They are kind of huge, and kind of pretty to look at it. When I think about, it's pretty much the only direction the campus has to expand," said Trey Wampler, a UT junior.

"It's sad, because there's some sentimental value here," said Clay Connell, a UT grad student who leases at 1302 White Avenue.

The university hopes to have a design team in place by July.

The plan will be reviewed by campus planning and design committee and UT administrators.

Irvin says the decision regarding the fate of the White Avenue homes will be decided sometime in the fall.

Irwin insisted the university did not want to use its power of eminent domain and would do so only as a last resort.

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