KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs believes a vote on whether to move Knox County Schools central offices to TVA’s east tower could be held as soon as next month.
Discussions about whether to move the district to another facility and sell the Andrew Johnson building to a private developer, began under former Mayor Tim Burchett’s administration.
Monday, Jacobs explained the negotiations between TVA and the county have reached a fine-tuning stage and all the major components of a potential deal have been ironed out.
It is ultimately up to the Knox County Commission as well as the Knox County School Board to make the move.
If the plan is approved, Jacobs said a some departments would be moved into their new offices by the next school year.
Here’s what we know about the proposal so far:
The agreement isn’t a lease, technically. In the legal world, the proposed agreement is called an easement, likely to last 40 years, according to Jacobs. Over the course of those four decades, Jacobs’ team estimates significant cost savings, in the tens of millions of dollars.
There is also a revenue-generating opportunity with the current proposal. The district would occupy the first six floors, under current plans, and the county would have the ability to sublease the top six. Jacobs said that money could offset some of their rent, plus some.
The county would be paying for space in the tower at a rate of 37.5 cents per square foot, which considering its location downtown, Jacobs called it an “unbelievable deal.”
While finding a new home for the school district is their top priority, Jacobs said if the deal isn’t approved, the county would want the space for “something,” and added “at 37.5 cents per square foot, we have to look that in.”
The east tower
The tower sits 12 floors tall. Each floor is made up of 17,500 square feet, totaling 211,000 square feet.
With recently upgraded elevators, HVAC system, windows, fire alarm, plumbing throughout, Jacobs sees their investment as mostly cosmetic. The east tower lacks structural issues.
The extent of their work would include build-outs, of demountable partitions for future customizing, carpet, paint, fixtures, a service elevator and pedestrian bridge for ADA compliance.
The total estimate for renovating the 12 floors is roughly $10 million. If the county succeeded in selling the AJ building for $6 million, the county’s total investment would hover around $4 million.
Overall, he said it will cost less than staying at the Andrew Johnson building.
Jacobs explained another advantage of the virtually open floor plans is the school district’s ability to customize each floor to their needs. Their already working on more collaborative-design, shared, designs. “we just want the public to see it’s actually it’s a wonderful space, it has been maintained, it’s been conveniently located.”
The plan, as it sits currently, is to renovate all 12 at the same time, to make room for the district and prospective tenants above them.
Andrew Johnson Building
The last reported estimate for a sale of the AJ building was $6 million. Mayor Jacobs said they hope to still be able to secure that number, despite a rising cost of construction.
Because of the years age, built in 1929, Jacobs said their team thinks too much investment is needed by a private party to hope for anymore than $6 million.
The building isn’t compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. For needed renovations, and bringing it to ADA compliance, Jacobs said “when you start pulling those permits and all that, and you bring it up to code, you’re looking at tens of millions of dollars.”
“We think this is a wonderful opportunity to save the taxpayers’ money, give the schools an upgrade with their operations, as well as put the AJ building back in private hands so that we can see development there in that entire area. It’s just a win-win for everybody here,” Jacobs said.
The Summer Place parking garage is both a component of, and separate from, the proposed deal. For $1.6 million, the county plans to buy the garage, gain 700 parking spaces, 35,000 square feet of office space on the corner of Summit Hill, and 80,000 square feet below the garage, which county officials see as potential for storage.
The Langley Parking Garage is also a major piece of this agreement. Before Langley, Jacobs explained, there wasn’t enough parking for a fully-occupied east tower. Now that west tower, TVA, employees park at the Langley, Summer Place is available to sweeten any deal.
Chris Caldwell, Knox County’s Finance Director, said there have been discussions with the City of Knoxville about potentially adding the garage to the list of free places to part after 6 p.m. and on weekends.
Regardless of whose name is on the front door, the east tower is a federal building, with it’s unique set of security guidelines.
If you’ve ever stepped into the west tower, you know them well. They include valid, government-issued identification and a walk through a metal detector.
“In this day and age, where we worry about mass shootings, we need a security upgrade, frankly,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs acknowledged Monday there are some concerns about the new security specs limiting public access to the school district. Current plans call for a meeting space on the first floor for those who are unable to provide adequate identification, where district employees can come down and have discussions with parents.
Jayne Burritt, Administrator for the Public Building Authority, said an average of seven to 15 people daily, outside the school system, come by the AJ building currently.