Plans underway to sell and make use of vacant former Knox County

Plans underway to sell and make use of vacant former Knox County school buildings

Posted:
With boarded up windows and broken bottles scattered around the entrance, the former Rule High School property has fallen into a state of disrepair, but it could soon be up for sale. With boarded up windows and broken bottles scattered around the entrance, the former Rule High School property has fallen into a state of disrepair, but it could soon be up for sale.
The former high school closed in 1991 and has sat mostly vacant for more than two decades. (source: East Tennessee Design Center) The former high school closed in 1991 and has sat mostly vacant for more than two decades. (source: East Tennessee Design Center)
“With our financial budget shortfalls [in Knox County schools], people should be scrambling to do something about these buildings sitting there and be proactive with a plan,” said parent Megan Hardy. “With our financial budget shortfalls [in Knox County schools], people should be scrambling to do something about these buildings sitting there and be proactive with a plan,” said parent Megan Hardy.
“Until fairly recently it was actually under a lease to a local church who entered into an agreement with the board of education with the plan to renovate Rule and make it into a community center,” explained superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre. “Until fairly recently it was actually under a lease to a local church who entered into an agreement with the board of education with the plan to renovate Rule and make it into a community center,” explained superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre.
By ALEXIS ZOTOS
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – With boarded up windows and broken bottles scattered around the entrance, the former Rule High School property has fallen into a state of disrepair, but it could soon be up for sale. 

The Knox County school board could vote to surplus the building back to the county as early as their August meeting.

The former high school closed in 1991 and has sat mostly vacant for more than two decades. It’s landed on the Knox Heritage Fragile 15 list several times. The empty building raised questions for Knox County parent Megan Hardy.

“With our financial budget shortfalls [in Knox County schools], people should be scrambling to do something about these buildings sitting there and be proactive with a plan,” said Hardy.

Hardy moved here from Nashville last year and has three children in Knox County schools. 

“I’m worried about the funding of the schools, and I just want everyone to be proactive and fiscally responsible to fund these schools,” she said. 

The school system has been working on a plan for Rule High School for some time now.

“Until fairly recently it was actually under a lease to a local church who entered into an agreement with the board of education with the plan to renovate Rule and make it into a community center,” explained superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre.

The building was leased to the church for one dollar a year, but year after year, nothing happened. Eighteen months ago, Dr. McIntyre says he began the process of turning it back over to the county.

A steering committee was formed by the East Tennessee Community Design center, and a public meeting was held in May 2013 to gather community input.

“A community center for the neighborhood or a sports complex for underprivileged youth were some ideas people wanted to see,” said Leslie Fawaz, the design studio director for ETCD. 

Fawaz presented the information to the Board of Education last August.

“It is our belief that the present state of Rule High School is detrimental to the well being of surrounding community. The building contains environmental hazards and sections of the building are blighted, abandoned,  and have been left to deteriorate through neglect,” the presentation read.

Web Extra: East Tennessee Community Design presentation to Knox County school board on Rule High [PDF]

More than a year later, the property is still in the hands of the school district.

“Rule has been on our minds and it’s been brought up time and time again, every year. It costs us more money to shore them up so we can sell them for another use,” said County Commissioner Jeff Ownby.

We pulled the data for other former school buildings turned over to the county. One that many people think of is the former Oakwood Elementary. When turned over, it was in serious disrepair. The roof soon caved in.

Oakwood closed as a school in 1996, but wasn’t surplused until 2010. It was partially used as the teacher supply depot.

“Part of it was being used; part of it was falling down,” said Fawaz. The ETCD also helped with Oakwood.

We asked the school district why the building was left to deteriorate.

“We have limited resources, so we allocate those resources to buildings that have children in them and making sure that we provide a safe healthy learning environment for our schools that are actively being used to educated children,” explained Dr. McIntyre.

Commissioner Ownby says that makes their job that much tougher when it comes time to try to sell the properties.

“No one wants to buy a building that’s about to fall down. It costs taxpayers more money the more they sit,” said Ownby.

At Oakwood, because of the significant damage, the county only received $1,000. Right now, construction is underway to turn the former elementary into an assisted living home. It is expected to open in November 2014.

Compare that to Historic Knoxville High School which was turned over to the county in 2013 while it was still in good condition. The sale brought in $500,000, but that money is not going to the schools. Instead it will go to the county general fund.

“It is our desire that those funds come back to Knox County schools, but it’s not a requirement,” said McIntyre.

We learned in some cases the money would make its way back to the classroom. According to Bud Armstrong, the Knox County law director, if the building is deeded to the school, then the money would go to their capital fund. 

However, many schools are deeded to the county, including Rule High School. Any profit from those sales goes to the county general fund.

Contributing to blight

Kim Trent at Knox Heritage says these former school buildings are community assets.

“These are tax ayer built and paid for structures, and they’re investments in our infrastructure in our community,” said Trent.

Trent says it’s frustrating to see the buildings sit idle and contribute to blight.

“They're like a cancer that spreads when they're left to deteriorate, when they're abandoned, when they look really terrible, property values diminish, they become a magnet for crime,” said Trent.

Trent works with the East Tennessee Design Center on finding a future for these buildings. In the last year since the steering committee was formed, no developers have expressed interest in Rule High School.

In Rule's case, she says the sheer size and time it's sat empty make its future uncertain.

“It is in really deteriorated condition because it was just left to languish for so long,” said Trent.

Rule High School is actually five parts, including the school, a building used by the district for security and maintenance, and the old stadium.

Dr. McIntyre says they are planning to surplus the main high school building.

Trent says things have improved since Dr. McIntyre became superintendent in terms of finding new life for these buildings.

“For a decade, we really couldn’t get anything done,” Trent said. 

Previous story: Former South High School sold to impulse buyer for $107,000

In addition to Oakwood, Old South High School was another building that sat empty and crumbling. According to records from the Knox County property division, the building was vacated in 1991 and the Knox County school board surplused the building in 2004. 

It was then sold in 2008 by the county for $117,700 at auction. After years of remaining a blighted property, the city stepped in to make repairs in 2012. 

Previous story: Efforts underway to save Knoxville's old South High School

“We would like to see [the buildings] get back to us sooner rather than later so it doesn’t cost the taxpayers more money,” said Commissioner Ownby.

Trent and McIntyre say things are moving more quickly.

“Maybe the past history might be a little different but if you look at the recent history we have a pretty decent track record of moving diligently to surplus properties we don't need any more,” said Dr. McIntyre.

If and when the school board votes to surplus Rule High School back to the county there is still a long road ahead.

The county says the first step will be securing the building and then beginning the steps towards finding a buyer, most likely through an RFP process. 

Powered by WorldNow

1306 N. Broadway NE Knoxville,
Tennessee 37917

Telephone: 865.637.NEWS(6397)
Fax: 865.525.4091
Email: newsroom@wate.com

Can’t find something?
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Young Broadcasting of Knoxville, Inc. A Media General Company.