August 22, 2016 — In recognition of the need to provide high-quality legal services for those who otherwise could not afford to hire a lawyer, Lincoln Memorial University, with the cooperation of the Old City Hall Knoxville Partnership and the City of Knoxville, has agreed to fully renovate the Stair Building at LMU’s Duncan School of Law and lease it to Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) for $1 a year.
Representatives from LMU, the City of Knoxville and LAET were on hand to sign lease documents during a ceremony in front of the historic Stair Building at LMU Law on Monday, August 22, 2016. LMU President B. James Dawson, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, LAET Executive Director Sheri Fox and LAET Board President Donald F. Mason, Jr., formalized the agreement.
LMU plans to invest over $1 million to restore and preserve the historic building, which is owned by the City of Knoxville.
“Our commitment to restore the historic Stair Building on our campus in Knoxville not only provides for a long-term visible presence for Legal Aid of East Tennessee accessible to the many people in this service area, but also offers our students the opportunity to develop their skills by volunteering their services and gaining practical experience in preparation for the practice of law,” said LMU Law Vice President and Dean Gary R. Wade. “I am especially grateful to the Mayor and the City Council for their leadership in this important initiative.”
For over 50 years, the lawyers of LAET have been advocating for the rights of Knoxville’s most vulnerable citizens, helping ensure fair legal representation regardless of how much money they have.
“The generosity of LMU and the cooperation of the Old City Hall Knoxville Partnership and the City in making this arrangement possible send a clear message that justice for all is a priority in this community,” Fox said. “Not only will this generosity help LAET narrow the justice gap, but it also means that our clients and our entire staff will reap the numerous benefits of working in modern, beautifully appointed office space with upgraded technology.”
Demolition and construction on the site has already begun. Following renovations, LAET will move its Knoxville office from its current location on Gay Street in early 2017. The building will house attorneys, paralegals, administrative and support staff, and LAET’s information technology center.
Mayor Rogero, who noted she has worked in both the Stair Building and the LMU Law Building in the past, applauded the cooperation of two like-minded organizations seeking to serve the citizens of Knoxville and beyond.
“This arrangement will ensure that Legal Aid can continue to provide high-quality legal services to families across our region who can’t afford a lawyer. It likewise provides opportunities for LMU Law students to roll up their sleeves and start helping clients immediately,” Rogero said. “But really, it’s an even better deal, because this lease arrangement brings a rare historic structure back into reuse. So this is a win-win-win situation.”
The entire LMU Law site, including the Stair Building, sits on land originally donated by merchant Calvin Morgan in 1844. The State originally appropriated funds for the construction of what came to be known as the Tennessee School for the Deaf, which opened in 1848. The school was converted to a Civil War hospital in 1861, first serving Confederate forces and later Union forces. After the war, the school reopened and operated on the same site until 1924, when Knoxville acquired the land for its City Hall. The City used the location until 1980, when its offices were moved into the City-County Building, but retained ownership of the buildings, which have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Tennessee Valley Authority and Knoxville Area Partnership occupied the property for several years until LMU acquired the lease in 2008 and opened LMU Law in 2009.