As predicted, the old Knoxville High School, sold to the county way back in the day for a whopping $1,000 when the schools merged, is now set to become low-income senior housing -- or at least, for the length of the term of the loan. During its regular meeting today, held a week earlier than usual because of Thanksgiving, Knox County Commission voted 9 to 2 to approve the RFP from Family Pride and Southeastern Housing to convert the school into housing for those 62 and above.
There had been controversy over the decision, as three of the five evaluators on the RFP committee had scored a mixed-use proposal by Dewhirst Properties much, much higher. However, the county's purchasing department scored Family Pride's offer of $500,000 cash a lot higher than Dewhirst's offer of discounted apartments for teachers, pushing the former proposal over the edge. Commission didn't have the option to pick Dewhirst's proposal instead, only to dismiss the RFP and start the process over again. And since Commission loves cash, even when it's only 0.07142857142857142 percent (h/t Mike Donila) of the county's annual budget, they didn't turn the RFP down.
Only four people spoke in the public hearing before the vote, all of them well over 50. Three speakers were residents of Fourth & Gill, the neighborhood bordering the school. Two were in favor of senior housing, but one, Barbara Simpson, was vehemently opposed. "It's a grand building, and it needs a grand project," Simpson told Commission. "I would rather see this shelved than settle for second-best."
(Note: It's possible more Fourth & Gill residents would have shown up in opposition to the project -- the listserv was crazy with comments against it this morning -- but Commissioner Amy Broyles told those e-mailing that it would be illegal for the county to issue a second RFP because the building is on the National Register of Historic Places. She also wrote to one constituent expressing his concerns about the Family Pride proposal, "You're right, you are beating a dead horse! ... But the bottom line is that this is the winning bid, legally there isn't much wiggle room for us, it is not the horrible, terrible thing everyone is afraid of, and ultimately it will be an asset to our community.")
In any case, both Commissioners Sam McKenzie and Mike Brown voted against the proposal, saying they thought a mixed-use facility would be the best use for the building. But two votes out of 11 doesn't a rebidding make. So we say, if you're over 62 -- or will be in 2015 when the project is supposed to be done -- and you make less than $32,000 a year, and you want to live somewhere cool downtown, and you're sick of cooking and cleaning for yourself, call up Family Pride and get on the waiting list for this sucker! Sure, you'll be paying almost twice as much as you would be at almost any other apartment downtown for a lot less space, but you'll be living in "a hub of activity" that "buzzes 24-7." And who wouldn't want that out of one's golden years?