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Work nearing completion on Washington School Apartments

Matthew Lane • Sep 1, 2007 at 12:00 AM

The old Washington Elementary School is being converted to apartment units of about 900 square feet each. David Grace photo.


KINGSPORT — Work to transform the old Washington Elementary School into affordable senior housing is nearing completion, and according to the project manager, he hopes to have people living in the new facility by Christmas.

Two years ago, Kingsport entered into an agreement with The Landmark Group — a North Carolina development company — to redevelop the aging school building into a senior housing facility.

Landmark received $4.8 million in low-income housing tax credits from the Tennessee Housing and Development Agency, which allowed the company to exercise its option on the building. Under the agreement, Landmark will own, build, manage and maintain the property and has until Nov. 1 to complete the project or the property reverts back to the city.

Clint Sellers, project manager for Landmark, said the company is planning on being complete by the end of October. The cost of the project is estimated to be $6 million to $7 million. The project was stalled for about a month after thieves stole copper pipes and other equipment from the site, Sellers said.

“The project is in the finishing stages now,” Sellers said. “We’re putting down carpet and tile, putting on the last coats of paint, and the landscaping will start out there next week.”

Over the past two years, Landmark has transformed the interior of the old school into one- and two-bedroom apartments of roughly 900 square feet while maintaining the exterior of the building. In addition, Landmark built a new three-story wing to the main building, turning the entire structure into a U-shaped facility with a courtyard in the middle.

The adjacent ball field on the site has been deeded back to the city; an asphalt walking track has been laid around the perimeter of the field.

“We saved the auditorium in the same shape it was in, added air conditioning, heat, re-sanded all of the floors and added a kitchenette where they can have things like flower club meetings,” Sellers said. “The old gym has been brought up to fire and life safety standards, and we plan in the future to do more, but it’s not really part of the project right now.”

Sellers said there are a total of 47 units in the old school, which will be renamed George Washington School Apartments once complete. Within the next three or four weeks, representatives from Landmark will come out to the new apartments and begin taking applications and screening potential renters, with the goal being to have tenants living there before Christmas.

“The building had some roof problems, but we got a roofing permit early on — several months in advance of the construction — and we went in and repaired the roof to stave off any further damage,” Seller said. “The building is in good shape, and most of it has been retained in its original shape. The classrooms, we tried not to change. We just kind of broke them down into apartments.

“The footprint of the building is distinguishable, and anybody who went to school there could find their classroom and where they sat.”

The Landmark Group works with local governments and public housing authorities to redevelop old buildings for residential and commercial use. Landmark officials said these projects frequently ignite community plans to revive dormant downtowns or rundown neighborhoods.

Sellers, who has done projects like these for 25 years, said Landmark normally has 10 to 16 or 18 jobs in the works, at one stage or another.

“As far as I know the project is well-received. We’re always looking to create a good relationship with the neighbors right off the bat, during the construction phase, and I don’t know if we’ve had any complaints from anyone.”

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