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Killebrew's work helps preserve, revitalize downtown McMinnville
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Investment Partners, the new owners of the Blue Building, prepare to develop the historic building into a condominium in downtown McMinnville. Lake Kirby of Investment Partners has pledged to honor the history of the Blue Building by turning the hallways of the first floor into a museum. Construction is ongoing. - photo by Philip Fairbanks

Rachel Killebrew has dedicated two decades to working on revitalizing downtown McMinnville with the aim of doing so while ensuring the historic spots that make up the area remain protected and intact.

Recently she helped get the installation of new windows approved at Magness Memorial Library with the help of a generous $50,000 donation from a patron who wished to remain unnamed. Killebrew was previously on the Historic Zoning Commission and has been on the Library Board as well as the Foundation Board which is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the library building itself. 

“When I first came back to McMinnville, the library was in such bad shape. The roof had caved in and they had to move stuff down to one room in front. You could hardly walk around and couldn’t see the fireplace or anything like that,” said Killebrew.

Magness Memorial, unlike many libraries in Tennessee, receives very little money from the city and county. What they do receive does not even fully cover the cost of administration and salaries for staff but, after seeing the state of the library, she knew she would want to work closely with the Foundation Board to get it back in shape. 

Killebrew was one of the founding members of Main Street McMinnville, served on the Board of Directors and was previously a Chair of the Design Committee. Currently, she serves as Building Chair of the Magness Library Board of Trustees. At Tuesday’s meeting of the Historic Zoning Commission, she pointed out that over the last two decades, she’s tackled some difficult issues, but the window replacements she wanted to be approved wouldn’t be nearly as difficult. 

For most of the time that she’s been working on this initiative, windows couldn’t be replaced due to historical zoning. 

In recent years, the company Jeld-Wen began offering windows specifically designed to improve heat retention and sound degradation while not affecting historic buildings. Three years ago one of these windows was installed in the basement to test it. The heat retention and sound dampening were a success so now more windows can be installed in the auditorium and Garden Room. 

Existing windows in the Garden Room are especially precarious. Killebrew says currently the windows there can not be opened due to a risk they could fall out. 

The new Jeld-Wen windows will not affect the look of the windows. The actual openings will not be resized or altered in any way. Killebrew was impressed with how the windows performed and says they are built to last. Sean Garrett, Interim Community Development Director, Building Official & Community Planner pointed out that the windows meet all necessary guidelines for historically zoned buildings. Killebrew noted how keeping out sound in the auditorium would be a boon when music events take place there, blocking car horns and other noise from outside traffic. The motion was approved with the full assent of the Historical Zoning Commission. 

Killebrew also stated how thrilled she was with the work Bobby and Lake Kirby have done on the Blue Building as well, especially considering the position it was in until fairly recently. The Blue Building was even put on the Tennessee Preservation Trust’s “Ten in Tennessee Endangered Properties List Program.” 

Thanks to the work of the Preservation Trust, only a handful of the sites put on the Ten in Tenn. list have not been able to be saved in a timely manner. Apart from McMinnville’s Blue Building, others that have made the Preservation Trust’s list include Aretha Franklin’s childhood home in Memphis, Mid-South Coliseum, the Polk Building and many others. 

Years of controversy over the Blue Building resulted in an eventual sale to Investment Partners. Before that, plans to demolish the historic building and worries it was “beyond repair” were fielded by the McMinnville Board. Much like with the library, Killebrew took it upon herself to do all in her power to protect a piece of downtown McMinnville’s history.

Killebrew also wanted to make sure to offer thanks to Dr. Carroll Van West, director of the Center for Historic Preservation at MTSU; Anne Brown, Warren County Genealogical and Historical Association; and Louis Jackson, Tennessee Historical Commission for all their help over the years. Killebrew said the Kirby development will be a great addition to downtown that not only preserves the historical foundation of the building but will serve as a gathering place featuring residences, a coffee shop/tap room with a patio and outdoor space and even a museum dedicated to Blue Building history on the first floor. 

The building will also feature a rooftop patio as an amenity for residents only.