City officials provide update on VA Campus

KNOXVILLE — City officials continue to develop a master plan for the Veterans Administration Campus project.

On Wednesday, the Knoxville City Council and the Marion County Board of Supervisors held a joint session to provide an update on their progress with the archaeological study, Request for Proposal (RFP) and master planning services.

According to Mayor Brian Hatch, a team of archaeologists from the University of Iowa did not uncover any artifacts of historical significance on the campus during their study. For the past month, the team dug small test holes in areas that had been noted as probable sites for artifacts of historical significance, which were previously designated by the State Historic Preservation Offices.

“They’re telling us that they did not find anything of significance, and they are recommending that no further studies need to be done,” says Hatch. “We have passed that along to SHPO. They have 30 days to comment on that, but I assume there won’t be much comment, so I think we can check that box off and be ready to move on.”

The city conducted a tour of buildings 27 and 28 on campus last week for potential buyers who are interested in rehabilitating, owning and operating them. According to City Manager Aaron Adams, two firms participated in the tour, one in-person and one via Zoom.

“I was not part of the tour, but my understanding is they did not give a lot of, I’ll say, positive commentary to the buildings,” says Adams. “I don’t want to read too much into it, but the report I heard back was that the body language was not very positive … the condition of those buildings is not good, as we already know.”

Through an agreement with the SHPO, buildings 27 and 28, which are the two oldest buildings on the campus, are on market for 60 days. During this time period, private investors are able to express interest in purchasing the buildings. If no interest is expressed within 60 days, the buildings will be controlled by local government and demolished. The 60 days will end Aug. 14, 2020.

Team members with Confluence, the architect on the project, have held discussions with council members, the school district and other members of the community over the past month. According to Principal Architect Matthew Carlile, three prominent topics of discussion came up the most: the intersection near Willetts Drive, a desire to connect the Marion County Park trail system to the VA property and the idea of a sports complex.

“We’re going to meet with an eighth grader who contacted us and is super interested in the project next week,” says Carlile. “Then we’re going to pick up a pencil and have our first design charrette and really start talking through what we think goes where and start coming up with some bubble diagrams.”

Carlile says the company hasn’t held a public meeting like they originally planned because of COVID-19, but everything else is on schedule as expected for master planning.

“We want this to be as involved and as transparent as we can, especially given the current limitations that we have,” says Marion County Supervisor Chair Mark Raymie.

Council member Megan Suhr says she is still concerned about the lack of information being given to the rest of the community regarding the project.

“I understand there was no opportunity to really have an in-person meeting with Confluence, but I just don’t want to give the impression that this is purely just board decisions. I want to make sure the community is involved at whatever level they need to be involved in as well,” says Suhr.

Emily Hawk can be reached at 641-672-2581 or by email at ehawk@oskyherald.com.

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