Home sweet Old Knoxville High

Betty BeanFeature, Inside 640

Students at Old Knoxville High School weathered two world wars, the Great Depression and some bare-knuckle rivalry games against Central. Opened in 1910, the once-grand three-story landmark ceased to be a high school in 1951 when the city opened three new schools (West, East and Fulton) and consigned KHS to house the city schools’ administrators. The adjective “Old” was added to the building’s name, and when the county took over the city school system, parts of the deteriorating building were used for adult education. The majestic front steps were condemned and roped off, leaving the Doughboy statue honoring KHS graduates killed in World War I to stand alone.

Today, there’s new life in the old building. The rifle racks that once served the shooting range on the top floor have been moved downstairs and repurposed as racks for pool cues. There’s a restaurant-grade kitchen and an adjacent piano lounge instead of a school cafeteria. The spacious halls that once teemed with students are quiet but inviting, with old-school radiators (refurbished and strictly decorative) as reminders of what used to be. Formerly freestanding buildings within the KHS complex have been connected via vaulting covered, sky-lit courtyards.

Developer Rick Dover (who has also restored and repurposed many other iconic structures in the area, including the old Farragut Hotel and Oakwood Elementary School), held a private tour for 125 KHS alumni and responded to trepidation about the steep front steps on Fifth Avenue by putting in an inviting ground level entrance on the Lamar Street side. The alumni were enthusiastic about their alma mater’s new life – one of them has signed up for an apartment and others have expressed interest.

A billiards room is one of the first-floor amenities.

Knoxville High School Independent Senior Living opened for business April 24, and so far, 20 of 80 units are occupied or reserved. Independent living is not assisted living and doesn’t provide medical care for its residents, who range in age from 60-something through 85.

“I describe it as food, fun and friends,” said Community Relations Director Kim Olen, ticking off amenities like three restaurant-style meals per day prepared by an executive chef, weekly housekeeping and laundry services, an event planner, valet parking and a corporate account with Lyft transportation services. Utilities (except for cable) are also included in the monthly rent, which ranges from $1,695 to $2,195 for studio apartments; $2,595 to $2,795 for one-bedroom units and $3,395 to $3,895 for two-bedroom apartments. There’s also a non-refundable $2,000 community fee, a non-refundable $500 reservation deposit, a non-refundable $500 pet fee and a $500 motorized wheelchair fee.

This sitting area is adjacent to the restaurant-style kitchen.

Most of the apartments have stackable washers and dryers, and they all have fully equipped kitchens, although most residents seem content with chef-prepared meals ordered from a menu. One resident, Olen said, uses her dishwasher as a filing cabinet.

“This is for people who decide, ‘I’m sick of home maintenance, yard work and cooking.’ One resident described it as a cruise ship on land,” Olen said. “You pay one fee for hassle-free living. It’s time to have some fun downtown.”

Knoxville High offers additional housing options, as well – lease agreements are month-to month with 30 days notice, so nobody is “stuck” there. For the undecided or those who need temporary housing, there’s a “staycation” option for up to three months, and there are guest room options for visitors.

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