KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — After more than two decades of discussion and debate, the University of Tennessee has decided to seek approval to sell the Eugenia Williams House, and use the money from the sale to fund scholarships for lower-income students.
The 24-acre lakefront mansion and property located at 4848 Lyons View Drive was donated to UT when owner Eugenia Williams died in 1998. She stipulated that the property be used to honor her father and be used for the benefit of the University of Tennessee
Initially, it was thought that UT could use the home as a residence for the UT president, but the Board of Trustees decided to stop that practice in the 2000s. After then, no one could really figure out what to do with it. So the stately 10,000 square foot mansion has sat unused and deteriorating for more than twenty years.
Last year, UT put together a committee to determine the future of the house, headed up by former UT President Joe Johnson. The committee initially recommended the property be transformed into a retreat center for students, but the cost to renovate it was prohibitive.
An architecture firm gave UT officials three options, ranging from $9.9 million to demolish the home and build a new retreat center to more than $12 million to renovate the home, which exceeded the University’s initial projections.
The report from McCarty, Holsaple, McCarty (MHM) said, “While the house is an interesting example of domestic design and construction, it would require extensive and costly repairs to make it habitable again and even more to bring it up to today’s standards of comfort and codes.”
So now, university officials have determined the best course of action is to sell the property.
“For the past 20 years, we have spent countless hours exploring options for the Eugenia Williams home that would fit within the stipulations of the will, engaging multiple stakeholders, including UT alumni, donors, faculty, staff and students; community members; real estate experts; and preservationists in discussions about how to utilize the unique property,” UT President Emeritus Joe Johnson said. “While I was hopeful we would be able to utilize the home for UT purposes, I think it’s in the best interest of the University and the community to explore other options that can fully utilize the beauty of the property. I appreciate everyone who worked so hard to help us evaluate potential uses for the space over the past two decades.”
UT Interim President Randy Boyd made the decision to seek approval to sell the property and use the proceeds of the sale to benefit initiatives centered on increasing student success.
“While the beauty of the property was unrivaled in the 1940s, sadly the cost to restore the home and property to its original beauty has become much more than we anticipated, and much more than we could responsibly do,” Boyd said. “I have had conversations with Knox Heritage, and we are hopeful for a win-win. We hope to find a buyer that will want to not only preserve but restore the home and property. Then UT will use the proceeds to send lower-income students to UT by supporting the UT Promise.”
In June, the University will seek approval from the Board of Trustees to file a cy pres court action to permit the sale of the property. The University is evaluating what restrictions and stipulations will apply to the future use of the property to be consistent with Williams’ intentions.
The money from the sale of the house would help establish the UT Knoxville Promise Dr. David Hitt Williams Endowment, in honor of Williams’ father. UT Promise is a last-dollar scholarship program that will guarantee free tuition and fees for students with a family household income of under $50,000 and after other financial aid is received (such as Pell Grants, HOPE Scholarship, or other institutional scholarships).
UT Promise will welcome its first class in the fall of 2020, and the scholarship program will include those students who were previously enrolled in college when the program begins in 2020.