Petition strives to save Victorian houses

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Kim Trent, the executive director of Knox Heritage, says an online petition to save the Victorian homes UT wants to tear down to build its new science center is making the rounds again. She said 13 years ago, UT agreed to a plan that set how far the university would expand into the Fort Sanders neighborhood.

"Those three houses in the 1300 block of White Avenue not only are outside the expansion area that was adopted, but they're also within the neighborhood conservation district and a national registered historic district," said Trent.

But UT said in 2009, it began work on a new master plan for the university. After much consideration, it decided the best spot for the center was at the corner of 13th Street and White Avenue. It already owns 1302 White Avenue, but is still trying to buy 1308 and 1312.

Many don't want to see the old homes come down.

"I'm a little partial to them - they're pretty. They've done a lot of work to a lot of houses around here, and I feel like they've got some historical value and tearing them down would be kind of sad," said Kelly Vancor, who works in the area.

UT said it's also looking at plans that would incorporate the homes into the science building. But Trent is doubtful that would work:

"They keep saying they need high tech, high quality science building. And I don't know how you'd incorporate that into an 1880s-1890s property," said Trent.

UT said those design plans will still take a few months to complete.

UT said if the Board of Trustees approved funding, state legislators would have to approve the project in the spring. If that happens, it would go before the state building commission. The earliest construction could start would be next fall.

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