Tennessee Temple's neighbors want old dorms razed

Tennessee Temple's neighbors want old dorms razed

October 19th, 2013 by Mary Helen Miller in Local Regional News

One of two closed former Tennessee Temple University dormitories is seen the campus in Highland Park.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

Two abandoned buildings owned by Tennessee Temple University are causing grief for some Highland Park residents.

The old dormitories, which have been vacant for about 10 years, sit on Union Avenue and Kirby Avenue, just beyond the fence that surrounds most of the buildings that are still used.

The city has deemed that the buildings are up to code, but that's not enough for some nearby residents.

"The wind goes through the buildings and slams the doors. It wakes me up at night," said Dean Smith, who lives across the street from one of the old dorms.

Smith said he and his wife have seen critters and kids crawl into the building, even after the bottom-floor windows and doors were boarded up. They've awoken in the morning to furniture strewn about the dorm's lawn, presumably thrown out the open windows by trespassers. Smith said he has seen hawks swoop in through the gaping windows and groundhogs burrow through the wall.

"It reminds you of Detroit or somewhere, where they just gave up and walked away," Smith said. "You can smell mildew when you walk by."

It's easy to see the mildew. Many of the ceilings in the two buildings are mold-soaked, with peeling paint. The railings have been removed for scrap from the four-story exterior staircases. Plants grow from the roofs, and Pepsi bottles sit on shelves near the open windows.

The president of Tennessee Temple, Steven Echols, said the two dorms are the only vacant buildings on campus.

"No one wants to bring [the buildings] down more than we do," said Echols. But, he said, "There's an enormous cost involved."

Even though Temple officials say the student population has grown in the past couple of years, it is still much lower than it was at its peak in 1980. Last month, the university announced that it is trying to sell the bulk of its campus because it plans to relocate to a different neighborhood.

Since summer, Tennessee Temple has had a contract drawn up with Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise that outlines an agreement for CNE to buy the properties. But CNE said there is still more due diligence to do before it goes through with the transaction.

"I know the neighbors are like 'Just buy it, and get it done, and tear it down,'" said Abby Garrison of CNE. But she reiterated how expensive it will be to demolish them. "They're big buildings. It's not like demolishing a house for $5,000."

Garrison wouldn't say when, exactly, CNE might be ready to purchase the properties, because she didn't want to disappoint people if there are delays. But, she said, "We are actively working on it, and have a short-term calendar in mind."

Echols said university officials may have jumped the gun a little when they started scrapping the building earlier this year. But, he said, they wanted to begin the preparation for demolition. And the university did not intend for the scrapping company it hired to remove many of the windows.

It may have been the scrapping that turned heads. After all, the buildings have been vacant for years.

The city did inspect the buildings, on Sept. 18 and Oct. 9, and deemed them secure.

Mike Wilson, the president of the Highland Park Neighborhood Association, said that ideally, his group would like to see the buildings torn down and replaced by a greenspace or new housing.

They would like to see "something that will completely erase the memory of those two old dilapidated buildings. ... Something that reflects the new energy of Highland Park."

Garrison said that if CNE goes through with the purchase, it will solicit neighborhood input about how the property should be used.

"I think everyone agrees that something better can and should be on those pieces of land. No one's happy with they way they are right now," Garrison said.

Contact staff writer Mary Helen Miller at mhmiller@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6324.