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Construction crews making progress on new home for Knoxville first responders

Big demolition is finished at the City of Knoxville's new safety center complex on the historic St. Mary's campus in North Knoxville.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The city of Knoxville is making progress on its new safety center complex. All of the massive demolition is done after almost two years of construction.

The historic St. Mary's site in North Knoxville is being renovated so city offices can move in next year. While the construction is taking longer than expected, the multi-year project now has an end date.

"It's really coming along," said Police Chief Eve Thomas, who is retiring next year. "We can really see what it's going to look like. It's very exciting. That's one thing I hate that I'm going to miss. But it is really neat to finally see that coming to fruition after after just being in, you know, demolition for so long."

Rooms are filled with sawdust and sheetrock now, but the hope is by this time in 2022, they will be filled with offices.

"It's been a challenge," Jason Hess, Messer Construction's senior project manager, said. It's been tough getting through the original two phases."

Every day is a step in progress in the construction site. On the top floor of the professional office building at the St. Mary's campus, the Knoxville Police Department will eventually move in.

The fire department, E911, pension system offices, and city court operations will be housed in different parts of the building and campus.

"Just being a renovation project, it's difficult in itself, especially going from a hospital setting to an office setting, you're moving a lot of the restrooms, moving a lot of the infrastructure," Hess said.

Crews are seeing some supply chain delays with the project, just like other industries.

“We actually released a lot of equipment and a lot of materials early on as soon as contracts started going out to minimize that impact," Hess said. We're seeing a few things that are starting to struggle a little bit, but we're doing an analysis right now to see exactly what that impact is.”

The city of Knoxville and Messer Construction said the finishing touches should come next fall.

"What we're looking at from a timeline schedule is really September of the next year, and then there's a big window where we've got to get folks moved in and that takes time," David Brace, the city of Knoxville's chief operations officer said.

The police chief's new office will overlook the Fulton High School football field. With such close proximity to the high school, some students have gotten the unique opportunity to observe the construction process. That partnership will continue when the building opens.

"We're going to have a feeder program for police and fire and the 911 with Fulton, so that relationship is exciting," Brace said.

Now that demolition is done, the other side of the building has a rare view. There is now a green patch of grass where a hospital building used to be, opening up sights to the original 1929 building on the hill.

The city is not developing that building but is working with KCDC to figure out the best moves forward.

The building housing the LMU departments of nursing and dentistry is also in view. Brace said the college moved in after seeing the investment from the City of Knoxville on the other parts of campus.

The city is hopeful that the $55.8-million investment will boost the community in North Knoxville and Oakwood-Lincoln Park. It's a vision then-mayor Madeline Rogero had in 2018 when she announced the plan.

"That investment is really important for the future of North Knoxville in the corridor of Central and Broadway that lead north out of our city, and so we're excited to be at this phase," Brace said. "It's been a complicated project."