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Developer begins to plan work on old school soon

Plans are expected to begin this Spring to renovate the former Old Elm Street School building that was built in 1922. The three-story, 12,000 square foot structure is being preserved and converted into Erwin’s first condominium complex by Lee Naylor, a Georgia developer. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

After purchasing the old Elm Street School building last year, Lee Naylor, a developer with the Georgia-based company Plansouth Inc., is continuing with his plans to create a new condominium complex.

The 12,000-square-foot building was built in 1922 and served as a school until 1969 before it was utilized as the central office for the Unicoi County School System and the Board of Education meeting place from 1970 to 2011.

“I noticed the property and had admired the building for several years. After I started seeing some activity, I knew I needed to speak up,” Naylor said.

Plansouth Inc. specializes in historic preservation, and Naylor contacted city officials and informed them that he had interest in saving the building, while other contractors interested in the property were more focused on the idea of tearing the building down and building something new on the property.

“There’s a lot of history in Erwin, and I knew they had lost a lot of historic properties over the last 10 or 20 years and it floored them when I said I was interested in preserving it,” he stated.

Naylor purchased the property for $50,000 and closed on it in August of last year, and expects work on the project to begin sometime this spring after the site plans are approved by the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

After the building was gutted, Naylor had several structural engineers deem it a solid building with no foundation or structural issues.

“We really have a gem as far as structural stability goes,” said Naylor. “We were able to preserve all of the window frames, and for the exterior of the building we aren’t planning to change anything other than reconditioning it some.”

He was originally going to pursue a nine unit plan with two bedrooms and two baths each, however due to the limited response from the flyers and brochures, he opted to go with a lower price point and 15 unit plan.

“We are on the verge of finalizing a 15 unit plan, and those range from 680 square feet to just over 1,300 square feet. We have one bedroom efficiencies all the way up to two bedroom and two bathroom plans on the third floor,” Naylor explained. “Prices will range from $140,000 to the upper $200,000 range. Part of the program will include a long term lease option, so there is a provision for that, and that is to be neighborly to the people that do purchase units.”

Several people have already expressed interest in wanting to form a purchase agreement, and Naylor says they plan to start marketing locally in the coming months. After evaluating ideas for apartments or an assisted living center, he concluded that for sale condominium units would best fit the area.

For those who do purchase units, Naylor would like for there to be a stipulation of a minimum one week or five day and four night reservation for listing with services such as Airbnb in order to be courteous to those living there permanently.

“There’s not anything else like this here, and I don’t know that the area is really ready for a 50 unit project, but a 15 unit project is something I certainly feel will be good for the area,” said Naylor.

“The national average commute is around an hour, and a lot of people are willing to commute longer now,” he continued. “Erwin is charming with it’s small town atmosphere that isn’t overcome by business like Johnson City or Asheville, and I think there is a demand for this plan.”

Plans call for elevator access for the three story building along with 15 garages large enough for cars and additional storage that is located to the side, behind the building. There will also be an amenity plan included with access to the beautiful rooftop view along with an outdoor grill and a firepit. 

“I am excited and I believe it will go well, and I think this will be successful,” Naylor said. “It is our intention to presale some of these units and we will offer pretty significant incentives for the first five or six units sold to help the project gain traction, and that way some buyers can customize more and pick out more with the interior design.”

For more information about the property, contact Lee Naylor at 770-616-3205.