Chambliss Center for Children one of Chattanooga’s oldest social institutions. Originally founded as Vine Street Orphan’s Home in 1872, it has been working to meet the needs of Chattanooga’s children for 145 years. Its mission is to preserve family unity and to help prevent the dependency, neglect, abuse and delinquency of children by responding to the community's childcare needs. The agency’s 24-hour Extended Child Care Program (ECE) provides affordable, accessible, quality child care for parents working or in school, helping them meet their complex childcare needs. In addition to the ECE program, Chambliss Center for Children also has a Residential Program, which recruits and trains foster families, operates a group home, and helps facilitate adoptions for children who have been taken in to state custody due to abuse, abandonment, neglect and/or delinquency.

I first formed a working relationship with Chambliss more than 15 years ago, when I was a young architect who had just moved back to Chattanooga. Since then, I have done several projects for them as I worked at various firms around town. I was pleased to be tapped again a couple of years ago as they conceived a plan to help youth aging out of state custody launch successfully into adulthood.

This latest project meets a crucial need that is not addressed in our current system. Financial support for children in state custody can end at age 18. Kids in the system are often on their own the year they graduate from high school, sometimes while they are still in high school, with no further funds or adult guidance to help them proceed at a very critical time. The state does pay for college tuition for former foster children, but they must maintain their grades—which is difficult to do if you are effectively homeless and without any adults to help you.

To help adolescents who are at this critical point in their lives, Chambliss decided to build new housing across the street from its campus. Kids who have just aged out of the system can live here independently, but will have a dedicated program administrator working with them. Chambliss did major fundraising to build the housing, and will receive some ongoing reimbursement funding from the state to keep the program running.

My challenge here was to create housing that provided these young adults with privacy, dignity, and the space to be independent—but that also created a framework for interaction with each other and the community. And of course it needed to be done on a tight budget.

Programmatically, I arrived at a matched pair of duplexes arranged around a common green. Each of the four one-bedroom units is only 550 feet, but contains a living room, kitchen, entry vestibule with a laundry closet, bedroom, and bathroom. Nine foot ceilings help the spaces open up, and each apartment has a large screened porch to extend the living space and give the houses—and their occupants—an on-going friendly interaction with the neighborhood. A projected window seat on the front porch creates a private, protected nook from which to observe the street. I designed a lifted roof over the front stoop of each apartment to add some height to what are otherwise small buildings.

We broke ground in spring 2016, and the units are close to completion now. Everett Warren of WLH Construction has done a great job shepherding the project and the process. And the Helen Maclellan Tipton and Kathrina Howze Maclellan Transitional Living Apartments will become home for four young adults in early 2017.