IF YOU GO
Who: Brainerd Unity Group
What: Meeting about the future of 21st Century Preparatory School. Knoxville businessman W.C. Bud Helton will discuss his plans for the property.
When: Thursday at 6 p.m.
Where: Brainerd Church of Christ, at Brainerd Road and Tuxedo Avenue.
Boarded-up windows and busted-out walls blemish the 21st Century Preparatory School, making the former magnet school an eyesore in the Brainerd community.
Knoxville-based businessman and former school administrator W.C. Bud Helton wants to buy the building, change the zoning from single-family residential to commercial and create a business incubator and training facility.
"We're going to use it as a school in a lot of ways," he said.
But without community support, he knows that zoning change won't happen.
Pastor of Friendship Central Community Church Bishop Sean Teal calls Helton's offer to buy the building an answer to prayers from community members upset over vandalism at the vacant school.
Other residents say they need to know more about Helton's plan before supporting a zoning change.
Helton will share his ideas for the property at a Brainerd Unity Group neighborhood meeting next week.
"All of the neighborhood associations are in agreement that the meeting isn't designed to be adversarial. We just want to be informed about what's going on," said Janis Hashe, president of the 21st Century Neighborhood Association.
The group is among three that represent residents who live near the school. The groups plans to have representatives at the meeting.
Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency officials also are expected to attend and answer questions about zoning.
Helton doesn't own the building yet, but the Hamilton County Board of Education has approved selling it to him after he submitted a proposal to buy it for $110,000. The only other bidder, Emerson Russell Management Corp., eventually withdrew its offer.
Helton said his purchase is contingent upon the zoning change. He also wants to close a portion of Cherryton Drive, the city street near the UTC Observatory that has been used as the school's back driveway.
Along with creating a business incubator and job training programs in the building, he's considered a gymnastics school and fitness facility.
Helton said he understands residents' concerns about the zoning change and how it might open the property up to undesirable commercial development such as a nightclub or a lending business. Restrictions can be written into the zoning that would prevent that from happening, he noted.
Alan Richelson, a board member of the Belvoir Neighborhood Association, said residents would object to manufacturing or retail businesses at the site.
"We just want to make sure or do what we can to keep it as quiet as possible and low key," he said.
Helton also purchased the old Franklin Middle School in Alton Park and is using it as a business incubator. He said Alton Park residents agreed to the zoning change, but wrote in restrictions to ensure prohibition of a nightclub or a junkyard.
The old 21st Century Preparatory School is on the National Register for Historic Places. For more than 75 years it operated as Brainerd Junior High School and, in later years, it was 21st Century School, which closed in 2009.
This story was edited on April 30. 2012. The date of the meeting was corrected to Thursday.
Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...