Inner-City Viability

Avoid overcrowded schools by settling in the center


by Matt Edens

School overcrowding in rapidly growing deep West Knoxville is the primary driver behind the Knox County school board's controversial high school rezoning plan. But the mushrooming population out in McMansionville isn't the only demographic shift the school board has to deal with. There's also the stagnant, if not dwindling numbers of school children in Knoxville's center city.

Since 1960, the population of Knoxville's center city (as roughly defined by the city's Empowerment Zone) has dropped by some 30,000 people. Considering that those left behind are disproportionately elderly and/or impoverished, it's no wonder that, while trying to ease overcrowding out west, the school board is also struggling to â“maintain a viable student populationâ” at inner-city Austin-East, Knox County's sole magnet high school.

Knox County's magnet program, established largely in response to a civil rights lawsuit, generally gets high marks from parents and students. But it has always been something of a stepchild, poorly promoted and limited in its impactâ"as evidenced by the concern over keeping Austin-East â“viable.â” Currently, in addition to the zoning issue, the school board is in the process of reevaluating the program (which, in addition to A-E, includes three elementary schools and Vine Middle).

Yet, while center-city schools are struggling, many center-city neighborhoods are more viable, from a market perspective, than they've been in a generation or more. Not only are downtown lofts drawing increasing numbers of upper- and upper-middle-income homeowners, the real estate revival is rippling out into the neighborhoods around it. Renovation dumpsters and fresh paint are popping up in places Parkridge, Oakwood and Lincoln Park. Whole new houses are being built in Mechanicsville, aimed at the upper-middle income market. And, in Old North and Fourth and Gill, it's getting hard to find a restored two-story Victorian for less than $250,000. Good news if you paid $90K five years ago for a house you had to gut down to the studs.

Not that you'll find many â“fixer-uppersâ” on the market in Fourth and Gill these days. Instead, many are â“move-in ready,â” much like this handsome house on Eleanor. Full of historic details like hardwood floors, gorgeous heart-pine doors (some with transoms) and multiple fireplaces with period mantles, this Victorian has been nicely updated and accentuated with everything from central heat and air to Tiffany-style light fixtures. But its best feature may be the lavishly landscaped yard with its privacy fence, numerous plantings, flagstone patios, graveled walks and an arbor.

It seems the school system has barely noticed what's going on in these neighborhoods. While Chattanooga has made its magnet program a major part of downtown revitalization, Knoxville has largely done the opposite, rezoning downtown from Green Magnet to Sequoyah. Hopefully the inner city's increasing influx of highly educated, professional parents (including the families who've settled in Fourth and Gill) will inject some fresh perspective (a process that, in Fourth and Gill's Second District school board seat, has already begun).

705 Eleanor Street 3bdrm/2 bath; 2,400 sq. ft. $259,000 Contact: Jennifer Montgomery Coldwell Banker: 693-1111


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