Renovations will soon begin on a century-old structure in Johnson City that will act as both a business incubator and the eastern anchor of the rehabilitated West Walnut Street.

City commissioners voted Thursday to hire BurWil Construction Company to serve as the contractor on repairs, which will be funded by a $5 million allocation from the state. Gov. Bill Lee included that money in his budget earlier this year. Clark Nexsen Architects will provide design services for the project.

The commission also approved an inter-local agreement with Washington County, which owns the building, that lays out respective responsibilities for the project. Because of the project’s strict timeframe, Johnson City will proceed with all the work and labor necessary to renovate the building.

The city has until June 30, 2022, to spend the $5 million it received from the state.

“That’s the reason you’re seeing a lot of this come at you real fast, and hopefully you will continue to see invoices and updates coming at you really fast,” City Manager Pete Peterson told commissioners last Thursday. “I don’t know that I’ve ever been challenged to spend $5 million in 10 months, but we’re going to do it.”

Peterson expects the building will be ready for use in the summer or fall.

Although he noted that it’s unclear what the precise scope of work will be, Facilities Management Director Randy Trivette said the city has asked the contractor to restore the building to a usable condition. Workers will ensure it’s safe, code-compliant and meets requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Crews will begin by demolishing damaged and deteriorating materials, such as ceiling tiles, flooring or plaster. The roof, which has since been repaired, leaked for a few years, Trivette said. That caused water damage to the inside of the building.

Trivette said workers will also test for and remove hazardous materials, such as asbestos or lead-based paint. The structure’s mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems will also need an upgrade.

He said the city aims to restore the Ashe Street Courthouse to its former grandeur.

“Right now, in our minds, it’s just not usable,” Trivette said about the building, citing the number of years it’s been vacant and the water damage.

The building’s exterior, however, shouldn’t require too much work, Trivette said. Outside renovations will include cleaning the brickwork and repairing plaster-type moldings. To ensure ADA compliance, the city may also add an exterior elevator shaft that will have access to all three floors.

Trivette said the building, located at 401 Ashe St., was constructed in the early 20th century as a bank and post office. It was eventually converted into a courthouse, and then for 30 years housed the Washington County 911 Emergency Communications District. It’s now empty.

Between now and the end of the year, Trivette said, the contractor will perform initial cleanup and identify other needed work while the architect finishes the design. Workers will also order materials.

“That gives them about six months to get the renovations done, which is doable but it’s just a tight timeline,” Trivette said.

The newly renovated courthouse will bolster the eastern end of the West Walnut Street corridor, a stretch of roadway connecting East Tennessee State University to downtown Johnson City.

The city has launched a $33 million project to rehabilitate the road, which will involve replacing the streetscape and utilities. The new roadway will also have a bike lane, sidewalks on both sides, on-street parking and elevated intersections to control traffic speed.

The city expects the contractor, Summers-Taylor Inc., to be substantially complete with the road project by Aug. 15, 2023.

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David Floyd covers Johnson City government, Johnson City schools and Ballad Health for the Johnson City Press. He grew up in East Tennessee and graduated from ETSU, where he was the executive editor of the school paper.

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