I recently attended a Knox Heritage members only tour of the former Oakwood Elementary School, built in 1914, and soon to be Oakwood Senior Living. It’s a little strange walking into a building that once house bustling elementary school students and now is home to fresh framing, plans hung on various walls. One of the former students from many decades ago stood in the center of what was once a gymnasium and reminisced.
Evidence of the former purpose of the building lay scattered about. Stacks of former school room doors, with room numbers still apparent made me think of the students and teachers who called that room home for much of their day. Where are they now? How would they feel to see the entry to their classroom sitting in a pile which may or may not see use again. Murals extolling the virtues of school and students, PTO signs and “Teacher Depot” signs.
The building, no longer used as a school seemed destined for demolition. What, after all, can you do with a school once its purpose no longer serves the community for which it was built? While “tear it down” is too often the answer, we have one alternative example at the former Brownlow Elementary which was converted to condos. Family Pride Corporation out of Loudon, TN, stepped in with another proposal for this space: senior apartments including a memory unit.
Rick Dover told me that schools are often perfectly suited for such a purpose. His background is in construction and his interest in senior living facilities was piqued when his own parent needed a place to move that offered more assistance and he was dissatisfied with the options. He felt a more attractive place where a person might actually want to live should be available at an affordable price. In the absence of such an option, he decided he would build them himself.
His company, Family Pride, does just that. They’ve already completed similar renovations at the site of the former Lenoir City High School, as well as two former hospitals. He’s excited about this current project and feels it will be a real asset to the community. The homes on Churchwell Avenue are small frame homes from the 1940s and 1950s. Senior living seems like a perfect idea for the area and one could easily imagine a former student becoming a new resident. It seems that might be comforting in a sense.
The company focuses on environmentally friendly construction with communities in mind. And here’s another thing that separates them from other construction companies: they operate the facility after they finish the construction. So, not only do they know construction, they know the senior living business and the two ends which might otherwise clash, builders and actual users, are one and the same.
Located just a couple of blocks outside Happy Holler, this is also a real asset to downtown Knoxville. It’s just over two miles from the center city and would be an ideal location for the parent of a resident of downtown, as well as Old North and surrounding areas. It’s another example of someone thinking just a little differently from the rest of us and benefiting everyone in the community by doing so.
Now that this project is underway, maybe they or someone like them would like to take a look at a little facility on our south waterfront. Here are a couple of videos that discuss the company and this specific project.