urban_renewal (2006-50)

School’s out forever at South Knoxville’s old Meade Elementary

Real Classy

by Matt Edens

Of the many issues surrounding suburban sprawl, few are more pressing, costly and complicated than providing public schools. Knox County’s current, occasionally acrimonious, debate over the new Hardin Valley High School stands out as a prime example. Whether it’s coming up with the funds to erect the building or finding a consensus on just which kids are going to fill it, few people seem happy with the solution. And, with the Orange Route beltway scheduled to bulldoze through that corner of the county and no doubt bring even more development, I suspect whatever winds up being done about the school will be, in the long run, a stopgap.

Then there’s the flip side of Knox County’s migration to the burbs and towards ever-bigger schools. Fifty years of flight and an aging urban population has left Knoxville’s inner city littered with leftover schools. Some soldier on, used by the school system for secondary purposes. New uses have been found for others: Park Junior, converted into Park Place condominiums, or Tyson and Moses, remade as office space. Old South High seems destined to follow, now that South Knoxville’s commissioners have come to their senses.

Others old schools, however, hang in limbo. Flenniken, also in South Knoxville, is for sale, its promised redevelopment apparently fallen through. Some folks fear a similar fate for Brownlow (whose current developer, Brian Conley, also owns Metro Pulse ). The future seems even more uncertain for Rule, Oakwood and Lincoln Park, sitting empty in areas where the economics of restoration are less favorable than Fourth and Gill. Will they suffer the same fate as McCallie, Beardsley and Park-Lowry—all lost to demolition?

Despite the demolitions, so many old schools have been left behind, both in Knoxville’s center city and in quiet corners of the county, that it is easy to lose track of them (a fact that, in part, contributed to McCallie’s unfortunate demise). Though it sits less than a quarter-mile from both Ijams and Island Home, I had no idea the old Meade School even existed until I wound up attending a party there a few years back. A small, rural school when it was built around 1930, its diminutive size eventually led to its closure but also helped it avoid the dereliction that befell many of its larger, urban brethren. Converted into a private residence, it’s currently divided into two units, each with many of the same features that make Park Place such prime residential space: big windows and bright, airy rooms.  For the musically inclined, there’s even a stage. But, given the time and money, I’d be tempted to transform it into a single residence. Its square footage is certainly comparable to many a golf-course McMansion, but there’s no comparing the quality of construction or architecture.

Meade Elementary School