(WBIR - Knoxville) There were no wrecking balls or dynamite, but Monday marked a milestone as demolition crews arrived for the first day of work at Lakeshore Park.
Joe Walsh, director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Knoxville, said the demolition crews will spend the first week examining the buildings for potential hazards. It could be sometime next week before any walls actually come down.
"Most of these buildings were built back 50 to 100 years ago," said Walsh. "Whether there's asbestos, lead-based paint, or other hazardous materials, they will go through an abatement process where all of that material is removed and disposed of properly before any walls are actually torn down."
NEO Corporation will demolish nine large buildings at the former Lakeshore Mental Health Institute in West Knoxville. The institute closed in 2012 and was obtained by the city to be converted entirely into public parkland. The work is expected to take around nine months at a price of $1.5 million.
The buildings will be demolished one at a time to minimize the construction zone's impact on the existing public park space. The first three buildings scheduled for demolition are the laundry building, a small building where patients upholstered furniture, and the old state health department building.
Reporter's Note: See slideshow at the bottom of this article for a map with images of each building scheduled for demolition at Lakeshore.
The contractor is yet to determine the order in which the remaining six buildings will be razed. Those structures include the Chota Building, the boiler house with its large smokestack, the Keller Building, Baker Building, Village Mall, and the sprawling Waterside Building.
Crews are not tearing down everything at Lakeshore. The city is spending more than a million dollars to preserve and update the administration building constructed in 1884. They will also save the Central Services building as well as an old old chapel.
Walsh said one of the most important things the city is keeping alive at the old campus are many of the trees.
"We're preserving a lot of these trees, as many trees as we can. There are so many old trees here, it would take you 50 to 100 years to establish if you were building from scratch."
This week the city will also begin the pre-bidding process for demolition of the many residential cottages on the Lakeshore property. Whenever the demolition is complete, the 180-acre park will be a blank slate for improved playgrounds, a pavilion, and amphitheater with a pristine view of the river.
"People are excited about creating a lot of overlooks and vistas. Just the possibilities are really great for someone like me who loves to build parks. This will be one of the premier parks in all of Knoxville," said Walsh.
All combined, the city expects to spend about $5.2 million on the entire project this year. City leaders said the demolition and other improvements will lay the groundwork for its master plan over the next 20 years.
One of the planned improvements is nearly doubling the length of the park's greenway from 2.25 miles to more than 4 miles.
The state handed over control of the park to Knoxville last summer after Lakeshore Mental Health Institute closed in 2012. Former Lakeshore employees held a reunion in late June prior to the start of demolition.