The old George Washington School has been renovated and transformed into apartments for low-income seniors. Erica Yoon photo.
KINGSPORT — A 1918 landmark that housed the Model City’s first public school has a new purpose: low-income senior housing.
George Washington School Apartments, which opened Nov. 15 at the corner of Sevier and Watauga streets near downtown’s Church Circle, has units available for seniors 62 and older.
Owned and operated by the Landmark Group and managed by Landmark Property Management Co., both based in North Carolina, the development — also known as The Lofts at Washington School — has 54 one- and two-bedroom apartments.
Rent is 30 percent of an individual’s or couple’s gross adjusted income, which Landmark Group Director of Property Management Blair Maas said is gross income minus medical, eyeglass and other selected expenses.
The income cap is $16,300 for individuals or $18,600 for couples. For couples, both must be at least 62.
The combined payments of the tenants and federal Section 8 Housing Assistance Payment Program for rent is $427 for one-bedroom apartments and $532 for two-bedroom apartments.
Residents must sign a one-year lease. Thereafter, they can rent on a month-to-month basis.
“This is what a lot of seniors need in this area, rent that is based on income,” said Tammy Kelley, marketing director for Landmark Property Management Co.
Landmark spent $6.6 million and took almost two years to renovate the building, which closed as a regular school in 1994.
Funding came from federal low-income tax credits, historical tax credits from the U.S. Department of the Interior, a Federal Home Loan Bank grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati and a loan from the same bank.
The city school system eventually gave it to the city, which in turn gave it to the Greater Kingsport Alliance for Development, the non-profit arm of the Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority. GKAD then gave it to Landmark.
History of Washington
The original school building opened 90 years ago as the Central School, serving grades 1 through 12.
After the first location of Dobyns-Bennett High School was built in 1926, the 1918 building became George Washington School and served elementary students, with expansions over the years.
It was last used as a traditional school in 1994, and Robinson Middle School students attended classes there when their school was being renovated in 1996.
It later housed Kingsport City Schools services, some support staff and two academic programs.
After it was no longer used by the school system and deemed surplus property, the Tennessee Housing Development Agency approved its conversion into apartments in 2005.
Although the city gave the property away, officials said keeping it or tearing it down would have been expensive.
A 1999 estimate indicated it would take $2.2 million just to bring the building into compliance with fire codes and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
And Terry Cunningham, executive director of the Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority, said it would have cost the city almost $350,000 to demolish the structure.
The new three-story section of 15 apartments was required to make the project large enough to be eligible for some of the funding.
KHRA served in an advisory capacity to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen on the project and allowed its nonprofit agency — the Greater Kingsport Alliance for Development — to be cited as a community partner on Landmark’s application for low-income housing tax credits.
Cunningham said the apartment complex is owned and managed by Landmark Asset Services, not KHRA.
“We’re just glad we’ve been able to participate in the redevelopment and reuse of this building,” Cunningham said.
Although KHRA hasn’t been involved in a similar project recently and no deals are pending for new ones right now, Cunningham said the Kingsport area has a good history of reusing school buildings.
Those include the Renaissance Center, the V.O. Dobbins Community Center and Madison House. Just outside the city limits, Tri-Cities Christian School owns and uses Sullivan County’s old Lynn Garden Middle School.
Washington 1 of 3 area Landmark projects
The apartment complex is a “project-based” development. Maas said that means that people who qualify to rent a unit there and later want to move elsewhere must re-qualify to get assistance for a new rental unit.
“The assistance is tied to the unit, the same as Kiwanis Towers, Holston Terrace, Forest Ridge Manor and Model City Apartments,” Cunningham explained.
In contrast, Landmark’s redevelopment of the Douglass School in Bristol, Va., is a voucher-based program for low-income people 55 and older. It has been open a year and a half and has 100 percent occupancy of 41 units with a waiting list.
Landmark also developed a new construction of Ridgecrest Town Apartments, a 72-unit, multi-family, low-income apartment complex in Bristol, Va., that opened in January and has all but 27 of 72 units occupied.
“They seem to really have tapped into the low-income housing development market,” Cunningham said of Landmark, which has nine new projects in development. “One of their specialties is adaptive reuse of buildings.”
Washington brought together adaptive reuse and historic preservation.
Apartments available now
With high ceilings, unique spaces and lots of vintage 20th Century hardwood flooring, the Washington apartments are reminiscent of lofts developed in downtown Kingsport and cities nationwide.
Daryl Pachol, site manager of the apartments, said 19 of the 53 units in the three-story complex are occupied.
During an open house last Tuesday, the public could come view apartments with ceilings of about 12 feet. Most are all hardwood floors of oak and/or maple, although some have a limited amount of carpet.
Cunningham said another, larger open house is planned for late March.
“The problem has been with people coming in here when they say they didn’t know we were open,” Pachol said of attracting residents.
She and Cunningham said the cold weather also may be keeping some prospective residents away.
All units have new black appliances, including refrigerators with automatic ice makers, a full-size stove and a dishwasher. Each also has a stainless steel sink with a disposal.
Pachol said many of the new residents who had lived in smaller apartments particularly like the disposals and dishwashers.
Many have space in a pantry for a small freezer, but that must be supplied by the tenants.
The two-bedroom units have two full bathrooms, and some units are accessible to people with disabilities.
The apartments range in size from 600 square feet to one 1,200-square-foot unit. Most one-bedroom units are around 800 square feet, and bedrooms have walk-in closets.
Some in the oldest section still have blackboards in place and ready for use, while those in a later addition have lockers still in place. The newest section was built in 2007 as an addition to the U-shaped complex.
Units have no washer or dryer hookups, but a laundry room is provided for residents to use on the second floor. Residents must pay their electric, phone and cable service bills, but water, sewer and trash pickup is included with the rent.
Common areas include a library, a meeting and events “ballroom” with a stage and demonstration kitchen, an outside walking track, and a computer area with Internet access.
The area with the stage and kitchen was the original gym and auditorium, but part of that space is now the office for the complex.
An exercise area is to be on the basement level in an old gym, although it is not finished yet. The library is soon to have shelves and books.
The hallways and flooring are mostly original in the older parts of the building, with retro lighting illuminating the way to apartments. Elevators and stairs provide access to the different floors.
Some hardwood flooring had to be patched or replaced and elevators installed, but Landmark officials said the overall goal was to keep the historic character of the building.
“We are real big into our support services here,” Maas said. “We try to support a little community within our building.”
She said offerings include organized bingo games, cooking demonstrations, information tables and sessions with various medical-related businesses and those that serve mostly seniors.
Maas said that once the building is 100 percent occupied, Landmark will encourage formation of a resident council that will have bylaws and regular meetings, sort of like a homeowners or condo association but with no dues or fees.
Cunningham said the city’s Parks and Recreation League plans to work with Landmark to co-use the gym. He said that the park next to the development also will be open for public use.
Seniors living in the complex will have ready walking, bus or car access to the library, churches, funeral homes and businesses downtown. He said he hopes a Kingsport Area Transit System bus stop will be put in front of the apartments.
Treasures in the attic
The walls of the second-story office have framed black-and- white photos of students and teachers in classrooms at the school.
“They found a lot of stuff that went to the Kingsport Library’s archives in the attic,” Kelley said. She said the items included scrapbooks dating back to the 1940s with old newspaper clippings from the Kingsport Times-News, as well as the photos.
A second floor hallway door that once led to the principal’s office is secured shut, with the office space now part of an apartment.
Tammy and Pachol said construction crews also found bats — the flying kind — in the attic, but quipped that those didn’t go to the library.
Landmark, based in Winston-Salem, has 59 properties with 2,200 units in the Southeast, mostly in South Carolina and North Carolina but also in Tennessee, Virginia, Florida, Georgia and soon Texas. It also has a unit in Knoxville and recently bought property in Powell, Tenn.
Anyone interested in looking at the Kingsport apartments and checking on their eligibility for renting should contact Pachol for an appointment between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Call (423) 246-2787 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Landmark and its residential redevelopments and developments, go to www.landmarkdevelopment.biz.