The Commercial Appeal

Knoxville College officials are forced to leave campus

- MEGAN BOEHNKE

KNOXVILLE - Knoxville College officials have been forced to leave the Mechanicsv­ille campus after city officials deemed unsafe the remaining two buildings still in use — the Alumni Library and the historic McMillan Chapel.

After city officials shuttered the rest of the 39-acre campus last year, no one will be allowed to occupy any building on campus until it is brought up to code, said David Brace, Knoxville’s public works director.

“They would have to get an architect, they would have to get a contractor, they would have to get all the inspection­s done,” Brace said. “They’re commercial buildings, so they’d have to have full design documents done.”

The two buildings received 90-day repairs order in September. The McMillan Chapel has a leaking roof that has damaged interior walls and floors, and the electrical and plumbing systems are not up to code, said Robert Moyers, manager of the city’s neighborho­od codes department, at the time.

The library, meanwhile, has significan­t cracks in the exterior load-bearing walls, which leads city staff to believe there are problems with the building’s foundation that leave the building in “a dangerous condition in my mind,” Moyers said.

Leonard Adams, vice chairman of the college’s board of trustees, declined to answer questions when reached Friday, but said the school would be issuing a statement about its future plans next week. The college saw a steady drop-off in funding and resources and enrollment after losing its accreditat­ion in 1997, and stopped holding classes altogether after the spring semester in 2015.

Still, four staffers continued to work out of the basement of the library throughout the fall in hopes of restarting classes.

“Even though we have no students, that’s the only difference,” Jane Redmond, management team leader for the college, said in September. “The operation of the college continues.

“As we are preparing and renovating the buildings, we’re talking about starting with online classes and being able to offer a complement of online classes.”

Redmond, who graduated from Knoxville College, could not be reached for comment this week.

On Dec. 28, the city issued a general repair permit for the library basement. Plans were submitted on Jan. 10 and approved by the city for structural shoring of the roof, and that was added to the permit.

On Wednesday, workers from Compass air were at the chapel installing two new air-conditioni­ng units on the roof of an adjacent wing of the chapel. The workers said painters had also been in the building this week.

No inspection­s have taken place, however.

In January 2015, the college signed a master developmen­t deal with Southeast Commercial. Gary Smith, head of the firm, said in May that he had two developers interested in the land and envisioned a redevelopm­ent district that could include affordable housing, senior housing, office buildings and a charter school.

He was unaware at the time, however, that the A.K. Stewart Science Building had ongoing environmen­tal issues. During the public hearing in May, when the city shuttered the 14 other campus buildings, the Tennessee Department of Environmen­t and Conservati­on said the building was being considered for a Superfund site. The building was also the site of 2014 federal clean-up by the Environmen­tal Protection Agency to dispose of thousands of abandoned and unlabeled hazardous chemicals in the vacant building.

“The Stewart Science Building is a very dangerous place,” said Dan Hawkins, who oversees remediatio­n at the agency’s Knoxville office, at that meeting. “We were over there every couple of weeks and secured the building, but it would get broken into and they (vagrants) were taking stuff out of it. A lot of that stuff is probably contaminat­ed with mercury, and they’re taking it out in public.”

The college has a storied history in Knoxville.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the school’s commenceme­nt speaker in 1961 and students at the college were at the forefront of Knoxville’s sit-in movement during the civil rights era.

 ?? JIM WEBER, THE COMMERCIAL APPEAL ?? Velda Gates dances across the finish line during the 20th annual Valentine s Day Run Walk at Bartlett Baptist Church Saturday morning. Over 600 runners turned out for either a 5K or 10K race to benefit Bartlett Parks and Recreation.
JIM WEBER, THE COMMERCIAL APPEAL Velda Gates dances across the finish line during the 20th annual Valentine s Day Run Walk at Bartlett Baptist Church Saturday morning. Over 600 runners turned out for either a 5K or 10K race to benefit Bartlett Parks and Recreation.
 ?? SAUL YOUNG / USA TODAY NETWORK – TENNESSEE ?? Knoxville College's McKee Hall, once the centerpiec­e of the historical­ly black college, has been condemned by the city and sits in disrepair.
SAUL YOUNG / USA TODAY NETWORK – TENNESSEE Knoxville College's McKee Hall, once the centerpiec­e of the historical­ly black college, has been condemned by the city and sits in disrepair.

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