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Ellis Avenue building gets initial demolition approval

The tear-down of a nearly century-old building at 496 Ellis Avenue is one step closer to reality after developers scored final approval for demolition and a rebuild Monday.

Set to become an entertainment-meets-eatery venue, the building was once an armory, a roller-skating rink and a salvage house, according to city planning notes and documents created by Johnson Architecture, which is overseeing the project.

Planning commissioners Monday unanimously voted to approve the project, separately approving the demolition and the new building, which is set to look very similar to the warehouse as it currently stands and may even use some materials from the current building.

Though it was originally slated for renovation, architects recently surveyed the site and decided the building was unsafe as it stood.

A decision to demolish first scored approved from Maryville’s Downtown Design Review Board during its June 14 meeting.

There, board members asked if the site would get some sort of historical marker, given its significance to the city, and architects said that might be a future consideration.

After Monday's approval from the planning commission, the project doesn't need any other city board actions to move forward.

Developers have not announced a timeline for the project during public meetings, but have expressed eagerness to get the project done and assurance that the land won't simply remain empty after the demolition.

Planning commissioners Monday said they were excited to see an entertainment venue pop up in Maryville's downtown.

Project principals say the building will ultimately house a restaurant, a virtual golf range, a bowling alley and a shuffleboard area.

Though several individuals with Johnson Architecture have presented at meetings — none were there Monday as detailed site plans were given to commissioners before the meeting — David A. Shanks is the official developer.

The property recently scored rezoning and became a Washington Street Commercial Corridor district an “urban (designation allowing) higher traffic volumes and it permits denser commercial development, pedestrian access and landscaping along the edges of property and streets,” according to planning notes.

In other action Monday, commissioners:

• Approved abandoning alleys off or near to Everett High Road, Lord Avenue and Middlesettlements Road between Springdale and Pinedale streets.

• Approved final plans for the Johnston property subdivision off North Houston Street and Landau Drive.

• Approved a development services request to an amend the subdivision regulations and extend a moratorium on integrally designed subdivisions.

Goats vs. kudzu in Maryville College Woods

One non-native species is removing another from the Maryville College Woods, one bite at a time, with Nigerian Dwarf goats grazing on kudzu.

The vine began appearing on the edge of the 140-acre forest about eight years ago, according to biology professor Drew Crain, a member of the group that manages the woods. An animal such as a raccoon likely ate one of the legumes from the plant in another area and deposited the seed in scat.

This month the college brought in Knox Goats, an “alternative landscaping business” as an environmentally friendly method to take out the kudzu.

With a Great Pyrenees guard dog named Casper protecting the goats, they’ll munch the plants from within an electric fence, which will be moved over time to clear 3.7 acres.

“This will be the first of many grazings,” Crain said. The team from Knox Goats will be back later this year, at least twice next year and at least once the following year to thoroughly remove the fast-growing plants.

Owner Keith Bridges started in the business four years ago and now has 140 goats, with plans to add 60 more this year.

In addition to kudzu, the goats will eat privet, honeysuckle, blackberries, briers, poison ivy, poison oak — just about anything but mountain laurel and rhododendron, Bridges said. He’s seen them make visible cars and tractors in fields that were covered by vegetation.

“Goats are great at getting the places you don’t want to spray or can’t get equipment,” he said.

“It’s really the only strategy that we’re comfortable with,” Crain said.

Kudzu grows so fast that Bridges sometimes has to remove it by hand from the fencing.

“It’s the ultimate invasive,” Crain said, because it thrives in the summer sun, doesn’t need much water and fixes its own nitrogen. As it climbs trees, the kudzu damages limbs and outcompetes the native plants that benefit wildlife, such as the Virginia creeper, flowering dogwood and redbuds, he explained.

Sometimes called “the vine that ate the South,” kudzu is originally from Asia, but groups such as the Civilian Conservation Corps planted it in the 1930s to prevent soil erosion.

Diverse tactics

Kudzu isn’t the only non-native invasive plant being removed under a long-term management plan for the woods, which was farmland and pasture before the private college acquired it in 1881.

President Thomas Jefferson Lamar, then the college president, bought the land for $21 an acre and sold it to his school for $1.

In 2013, the college began applying a herbicide to English ivy in the woods, except an area leased to RT Lodge. Because it affects only the leaves, the spraying is done in February, before other plants emerge. “It has been amazing,” Crain said of the technique, first tested by a graduate student from the University of Tennessee.

The source of the English ivy can be traced to three spots, according to Crain. Two were homes, the House in the Woods and Morningside, the home that evolved into RT Lodge. The third is an area where the ivy removed from Anderson Hall in the 1960s was dumped in the woods.

Removing the ivy has made way for native wildflowers such as trillium and mayapple in the Maryville College Woods.

Chinese privet originally was planted near the amphitheater in the woods in the 1930s as part of a 6-acre arboretum. In recent years, students and volunteers have been removing privet and bush honeysuckle by hand.

“We top them off, and then we take the root with a lever-based tool,” Crain explained.

New species

Privet dries up the water table, and removing it has led to the discovery of a wetland area. This summer, Crain said, two species never recorded before in the Maryville College Woods have been spotted: green frogs and the spring salamander.

He also introduced wood frogs, which a friend found as tadpoles in a Blount County swimming pool this spring.

“We are managing the Woods to restore them to what they should be,” Crain said.

Schools seek public input on spending $23 million in federal funding

Public school systems in the area have until Aug. 1 to submit plans for spending more than $23 million in federal stimulus funding, and they are taking different approaches to gather required public feedback.

Alcoa City Schoolswill hold it second Google Meet session for the public at 10 a.m. today (June 16). The district is gathering input before drafting a plan for its $2.14 million from the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund under the American Rescue Plan Act, known as ESSER 3.0.

The ACS website also includes a brief survey, explaining that 20% of the funding must be used to help with learning losses from the COVID-19 pandemic. “We value your input as a stakeholder in helping us think about how best to recover lost learning time, the continued physical, mental, and social health of our students, ways to advance learning, and specific needs relating to facilities maintenance and infrastructure,” the survey says.

While no one showed up for last week’s online session, Alcoa’s federal programs director, Patty Thomas, said automated phone calls and emails to families have raised the number of survey responses to 142. Many are focused on adding educational staff, technology upgrades, building upgrades and more space, she said.

Blount County Schools has posted a 76-page draft plan for spending nearly $17 million on its website, inviting people to submit feedback by email to esser3@blountk12.org.

Maryville City Schools plans to spend its $4.1 million on intervention teachers, replacing the junior high roof, and finishing the replacement of heating, ventilation and air conditioning units at Montgomery Ridge Intermediate School, according to a flyer summary. It also has a brief survey online and has received more than 200 responses.

The districts have used social media and automated messaging to families to get the word out. Alcoa also discussed the categories for spending during a Community Parent Advisory Committee meeting in May.

BCS details

The largest spending category in the BCS draft plan is nearly $6.44 million for regular instruction.

The plan calls for 23 interim teachers “to fully staff Blount County schools classrooms in order to avoid layoffs.” BCS did not respond to a Daily Times request to clarify that by press time, saying only, “The district plans to fund one core academic teacher per school to avoid a reduction in staff.”

It includes 12 learning loss interventionists, four reading coaches and four instructional interventionists, as well as the equivalent of two full-time tutors to work with the after school Friends program. Under a separate section the district has four reading coordinators to support students.

The district also is looking at adding five transition classrooms across the district for kindergartners who are not ready for first grade reading and math, to provide an extra year of instruction.

The plan also includes eight full-time equivalent positions for summer learning loss programming for grades K-8.

To address other student needs the district wants to hire one social worker, as well as four guidance counselors and two school psychologists to support students’ mental health needs as a result of the pandemic. The district said its plan to keep full-time nurses at the elementary schools also would support “the physical and mental health of students due to COVID-19.”

BCS plans to spend $2.5 million of the federal funding to build a career and technical education building at Eagleton College and Career Academy and about $2 million to repair or replace heating, ventilation and air conditioning units.

The draft plan also includes:

• $1 million for CTE equipment at the high schools but does not specify which campuses.

• $2.44 million for education technology, including the iReady benchmarking software the district uses to assess students and replacing 2,700 Chromebook computers in kindergarten, first, fifth and ninth grades.

BCS said it forwarded the plan to community stakeholders, including public officials and the Blount Partnership, and said Monday it is collecting comments “through the middle of June.”

Asked about responses so far, Amanda Vance, supervisor of elementary instruction and district communications, said BCS has received “some responses,” which “have acknowledged the hard work of the district to help families,” as well as feedback about transportation.

Maryville and Alcoa are accepting their survey responses through the end of the month.