Behind-the-scenes tours usually provide a glimpse of how something came to be. But a special tour of the former South Junior High and High School couldn’t possibly begin to convey the toil, sweat and determination it took to get the 82-year-old building to the point in rehabilitation it is today.
Well, perhaps there was a tiny taste of the sweat – even with huge fans running full blast inside.
Dover Signature Properties (formerly Dover Development) allowed the preservation advocacy group Knox Heritage to host an open house in the old school, which is being converted into a senior living facility. Still months away from completion (expected in early 2020), the building has seen major changes since developer Rick Dover introduced his project with an event in June 2017 (and that was after quite a bit of cleanup to make it safe for visitors).
Knox Heritage members on Friday were able to see the bare bones of the 60-odd independent-living apartments converted from old classrooms and the dining-kitchen area in the school’s former gym. A memory-care unit is also part of the project.
Jeanne May Tapp, who attended South from seventh through 12th grade, graduating in 1968, got a kick out of examining poster-size photographs from the school’s past.
“All these pictures are from before my time, but not by much,” she noted. Well-respected longtime Knoxville educator Paul Kelley was the principal she remembered best from her years at South.
Tapp, who now lives in West Knoxville, said she had “lots of fond memories” from her South days.
“I’m glad to see it being restored, for them to do something productive with it,” she said.
Todd Morgan, executive director of Knox Heritage, was impressed with the conversion from school to apartments, complimenting the work of the Dover team on other projects.
Dover wasn’t available to come to the event, but Morgan said he thought the South High apartments would be rented at a lower price point than units at the old Knoxville High, which Dover also renovated.
Morgan believes alumni of the school will be interested in living there.
“People I’ve talked to are so devoted to South Knoxville – like, if they grew up here, they want to stay here – so he’s really tapping into a good market.”