The City of Covington will move forward with plans to ask the state to release them from an agreement preventing them from demolishing the old Covington Grammar School building.
Earlier this year, Covington’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen decided to construct a new police station on the property, but progress has been delayed since the discovery of restrictions on its use imposed by a 1978 Land and Water Conservation Fund grant.
“We are property heavy in the city right now and I am not for the buying of additional property to place the police department,” said mayor Justin Hanson. “This is really prime real estate … it is the center of town, so it checks that box, and it’s a block from 51 and it can be seen from the highway, so this would give us something as you come into town, as you come into downtown, to really be proud of.”
Though neither state nor federal authorities can locate the paperwork, nothing on the 4.2-acre property – which is between Church and Seminary to the north and south and College and Greene to the east and west – can be torn down or moved until the conversation process has been completed, said city attorney Rachel Witherington.
At a public input meeting Monday night, residents voted to move forward with the conversion process. The application fee will cost the city $10,000 and a value-to-value match for the property.
Witherington suggested the Jaycees were interested in deeding two acres in the middle of Cobb Parr Park to the city at no charge.
Another option, said Hanson, was to install a pocket park in the location of now-vacated police station on East Pleasant.
The grant provided two lighted tennis courts, walkways, landscaping, three trash containers, four general purpose tables, six park benches and one aluminum bleacher. These items will need to be replaced, though it was clarified they didn’t necessarily have to re-install 40-year-old tennis courts.
Hanson said it isn’t likely the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation will deny the city’s application for conversion and a decision will be made on the day in which its presented.
“We’re hoping to have this completed by early spring,” he said.
He estimates the asbestos abatement and demolition of the old grammar school – which housed the Tipton County Commission on Aging from 1976 until it closed its doors earlier this week – and preparing the site for new construction will cost an estimated half million dollars.
Police chief Buddy Lewis said the new building is desparately needed.
The old one, in the words of resident Chris Hackett, “was a dump.”
Lewis said he’s been asking for a new building since taking on the role of chief in 2013. It was reportedly rated as one of the worst facilities ever seen by inspectors.
“It was deplorable,” added Hanson.
The department has since moved into two annexes – the patrol division on South Main, the investigations division on Church Street across from the grammar school – while they await the construction of the new building.
Early construction estimates put the costs of the facility over $6 million.