The Vose School at the corner of Locust and Birch streets in Alcoa has sat empty for more than two decades, but that could change soon after city officials confirmed they may be making the first moves this month to option the building for reuse.
After intermittent use as an Alcoa city school, a cerebral palsy school and a handicapped school until the mid-1970s, the building housed a Department of Motor Vehicles facility until the mid-1990s.
Alcoa government then used it for storage and it has primarily remained shuttered since then.
Residents in the area recently complained to the Alcoa Board of Commissioners that the building is becoming an eyesore and a potential danger to children who live in the neighborhood.
City Manager Mark Johnson addressed citizen concerns in the commission’s August meeting and said officials were preparing a request for proposal and seeing if any local businesses or retailers were interested in reusing the four-room building.
Assistant City Manager Andy Sonner confirmed these plans in a phone interview Friday and said they were moving forward quickly.
“What we’re doing is we’re going to advertise a request for proposal for the reuse of the school,” Sonner said. “We’ve had some various interest from folks about reuse, whether it be studios or ... residential.”
Sonner said he has been working on the RFP and now has it out for review. “Then what we’re going to do is try this month, this November, to get it out there and get it advertised.”
This would not be the first time the city has mentioned interest in the building.
Johnson said in a March 2017 meeting that a private developer had been interested in converting the old school to residential.
To this day, the 1.34-acre parcel on which the Vose School sits — owned by the city — is still zoned for residential, just like a majority of the property around it.
But no significant changes have happened since.
Some commissioners have urged the city to just tear down the building as its use long has been a subject of controversy and consternation.
But in 2017, the building was put on the National Register of Historic Places. This makes it important to the city and its history but does not legally prevent the structure from being demolished, according to federal regulations regarding the NRHP.
“Listing of private property on the National Register does not prohibit under Federal law or regulation any actions which may otherwise be taken by the property owner with respect to the property,” NRHP regulation 60.2 shows.
If Alcoa deemed the building necessary to condemn and destroy, it could.
‘Something with character’
So what would happen if the city sold both the building and the land to a new tenant?
Sonner said the city is putting the following verbiage into its RFP for the Vose School: “Developers are informed that the property shall be conveyed with historic preservation restrictions protecting the character and the design of the exterior of this historic building.”
He added the city was still fleshing out the details of just how the building should be protected were it to be sold to a new entity. That primarily revolves around making sure it retains the exterior look it’s had since it was built by Babcock Lumber Co. in 1916.
The bones of the building are probably still sturdy and safe, Sonner confirmed. But developers will have to make sure of that if they choose to move in.
“Prospective developers can come and inspect the building and look at it. We’ll have a couple of times for viewing, but they’ll need to do their due diligence,” he said.
“We’re going to have criteria to evaluate folks who want to redevelop this property,” Sonner added, after noting the city may try to sell it fee simple. But officials won’t just be looking for the best price: They’ll want to keep an emphasis on best use as well, Sonner said.
Despite the fact the school has been plagued by neglect, disrepair and even spots of graffiti that residents near the building say they covered up with gray paint, some Alcoa officials say the building has a potential future.
“It’s ultimately up to commission,” Sonner said. “If they want to demolish it, you know, then that’s at their will. I think that we’ve just said that if you can redevelop it and keep the historic building as is, or at least the exterior, then you have something with character.”