From ‘tortured’ to touted: a fresh start for old South High

Betsy PickleSouth Knox

Developer Rick Dover proclaimed a new beginning for the old South High School, which has been sitting unused since 1991, this week.

Dover welcomed Mayor Madeline Rogero, City Council First District representative Nick Pavlis, other guests and the media to a public kickoff of the restabilization of the blighted building Tuesday, followed by a tour of a few rooms that were safe to explore. He called the building’s history of neglect a “tortured story.”

Windows at the old school have been boarded up due to vandalism.

Dover Development acquired the property from the city, which had purchased it in 2015 after a previous buyer failed to improve or even maintain the old school. Dover plans to transform the building into a senior living facility, with about 60 private assisted-living units and a memory-care wing.

Designed by architect Charles Barber in 1932, the building at 953 E. Moody Ave. functioned as South Junior High, South High and eventually South Middle. The company Barber founded, now known as BarberMcMurry Architects, is working on the concept plans for the building’s new role.

Dover, who is overseeing the work with Dover Development’s director of operations, Shea Ramsey, said the project represents an investment of about $9.5 million for the company. He said they are committed to the preservation of the building, and Ramsey said they will use its original assets where possible.

Dover said it was “imperative” to start work on the building quickly.

“The building is fragile because of open roofs and deterioration and rot,” he said. “It was imperative to go ahead and step in now and not wait any longer in order to stabilize the building and keep any further deterioration from degrading it.”

Dover thanked Pavlis and Rogero profusely, and they in turn thanked City Council and the mayor’s staff. Rogero, who lives nearby, said she had been watching the property go downhill since she moved in 16 years ago and was happy to see Dover take it in a new direction.

“It will be a huge blessing to this community and will be a really wonderful place for many of our seniors to live,” Rogero said.

South High alum Monte Stanley talks about his old school with Mayor Madeline Rogero and Rick Dover.

The interior is a mess from floor to ceiling.

Mayor Madeline Rogero and developer Rick Dover step carefully through a section open to the elements.

The rotted roof takes on a sort of beauty on a sunny day.

No longer state of the art, the home economics classroom is spacious but filthy.

A talented student – or vandal – left some artwork behind on a blackboard.

Cubbies line the anteroom to the home economics classroom.

A bathtub seems an odd item to find in an old school.

A classroom’s collapsed floor offers a limited view of the basement, which held mechanical equipment, janitorial supplies and an immense storage space.

Most of the building – especially the back part – is off limits except to those working to stabilize it.




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