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Clay Bailey

Clay Bailey, a lifelong Memphian, has worked as a reporter in the city almost four decades. He concentrated on suburban coverage. He also is a freelance sportswriter for the Associated Press.

Suburban Dispatch: The closing of Tennessee Baptist Children's Home in Bartlett

By Updated: October 21, 2018 4:00 AM CT

Quietly -- almost unnoticed -- last spring, the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home in Bartlett closed, ending an almost 70-year presence in the suburb.

Officials with the Brentwood-based organization announced in November 2017 the decision to close the facility north of the Stage Road/U.S. 70 junction. Financial woes contributed to the decision to streamline the statewide operation.

The final residents left the Bartlett property this past spring.

The closing of the children’s home leaves a vacant 75-acre site in the center of the suburb -- a prime location near the crossroads of two highways. At face value, the rolling hills, complete with dorms, residences, cottages, office buildings, a commissary and a barn would seem to draw a lot of interest from developers. Not for those building, but rather just the prime land itself.

The sale of the property is as subtle as the organization’s departure.

“Word of mouth is the only advertising we have done so far,” Greg McCoy, president of Baptist Children’s Home Inc., said in an email regarding the potential sale of the property.

The land became part of the Children’s Baptist Home in 1947 when John and Mamie Rock “deeded their cotton farm of 125 acres, 15 miles east of Memphis near Bartlett, for a children’s home,” according to the organization’s archives. The original intent appeared to be for an orphanage. Two dormitories were built on the property in 1950.

The TBCH’s directive for residential care, says the on-campus facilities are “for children who are not in state custody but whose parents or family members cannot currently provide the day-to-day care the children need.” Houseparents at the campus homes care for up to eight children.

A Nov. 21, 2017 story in the Baptist and Reflector, said the closing was part of the organization moving to regional campuses – reducing the number of facilities across Tennessee from five to three. Another location in Oakdale, Tennessee also closed as part of the reorganization. The Ranch in Millington, a working farm that is also part of the TBHC, will remain open and expand from housing teenage boys exclusively to caring for younger boys and girls.

In retrospect, the formal announcement came about a year too late if there was any consideration of Bartlett building a new high school in a more central location. Bartlett High on the suburb’s west end was in an outdated, somewhat decaying state. Parts of the campus were 100 years old and the last renovation to the school was in the 1970s.

In March 2017, Bartlett City Schools announced the high school would remain at its current location on Woodlawn just north of Stage and undergo a $60 million makeover. The announcement after months of discussions, came about eight months before the November revelation that the 75-acre site would be available.

However, the city had some inkling of the children’s home’s potential departure and officials decided – even if available – the site was not a viable option. The cost of the property, land preparation, infrastructure, and other considerations could have run the cost to double the current renovation plan’s price tag. But there was also support for leaving the high school on the west side of town.

 

“It wasn’t what we needed,” Mayor Keith McDonald said of the potential for a high school campus on the children’s home property. “We needed (the high school) where it is for the sake of that end of town.” He said leaving the high school would “keep the west end vibrant.”

The site is zoned office-residential, and McDonald would like a mixed-use development there. One significant hurdle for the city or any potential buyer of the children’s home site is sewer service. In August 2017, Memphis put a moratorium on new sewer connections outside of the city. That includes Bartlett. And additional service would be necessary with any development on the property.

The current capacity just isn’t big enough for a large development – of any kind. And the mayor is interested in the “highest and best use” of the property.

McCoy said in an email that – despite the lack of a for sale sign on the property -- some have expressed interest, but no buyers yet.

The asking price? “Our Board of Trustees is not considering any offer under $3 million,” McCoy, the organization's president, wrote.



<strong>Clay Bailey</strong>

Clay Bailey

Topics

Tennessee Baptist Children's Home Bartlett development Bartlett High School

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