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A year ago, the dilapidated and long-abandoned Franklin Middle School in Alton Park was nothing more than a "holy mess" marred by vulgar vandalism and broken windows, said W.C. "Bud" Helton who purchased the building in May 2009.

Today, Helton is fighting to give the property a new look, but first he must win the trust and support of a community.

"If he keeps his word and employs people from the community, I'll back him," said Sonja Benning who lives in Alton Park.

Helton, an environmental consultant, said he plans to make the space a community center with a bookstore, bake shop, adult recreation facility, barber shop and job training facility. In order to do that, he must convince the Regional Planning Commission and the City Council to rezone the building for retail.

"If I can't get this zoning, I can't do the things I want to for the community," Helton said.

When Helton bought the building for $110,000, he had it zoned as "R4 with special conditions," meaning Helton's 2009 rezoning request was approved under the conditions that he would use the space for offices, a training facility and a health center.

He has since then poured more than $110,000 into renovations to clean out and repair the school, Helton said.

The Southside Community Health Center leases a portion of the school, but health center board members still plan on moving the facility, said Bill Hicks with the Southside Community Health Center.

Helton initially sought an M1 designation, the least restrictive zoning designation, which would allow anything except residences and cemeteries, said Patty Dodd, planner for the Regional Planning Agency.

After hearing from Alton Park and Southside residents Tuesday night, Helton agreed to meet with planners and find a more suitable zoning that would protect the residents from the building's future owners.

Still, Alton Park residents are hoping to see job training and after-school programs for their children.

LaDonna Bugg, a U.S. Army veteran, said she would like to see the space turned into a place where the children could learn that there is more to life than drugs and pimps.

"I've called the cops on kids trying to start a racial war down the street before," Bugg said. "They were throwing bricks at the cars of white people. They don't know anything about racial war. I'm a product of the 1960s in Detroit."

Others are pushing for vocational training to prepare for jobs moving into Chattanooga.

Milton Jackson lives less than six blocks from the property and expressed concerns about the environmental hazards and prospective uses of the building.

"We want to be ready for the jobs moving into the city," Jackson said. "If we had a training center, we would already have people who could go work at Volkswagen and they wouldn't have to bring people in from other states or Germany."

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