Nashville scraps buy of downtown historic site for Nashville School of Arts
Metro Council has scrapped plans for the city to purchase a historic downtown property eyed to become the new site of the Nashville School of the Arts.
Though expected to receive easy approval Tuesday night, Metro’s move to buy the state property at 88 Hermitage Avenue for $11.3 million failed to get enough support from council members.
The property, many years ago, was home to the Tennessee School for the Blind for African-American students.
The now-vacant building sits on 2.6 acres at Rolling Hill Mill and was earmarked for demolition to make way for Metro Nashville Public School’s new magnet art high school — despite it being denoted as worthy of conservation.
The Tennessee Historical Commission recommended against demolition, citing the building as one of the few remaining examples in the country of a segregated school for students with disabilities.
"I can’t on good conscious vote for it," said Council member Fabian Bedne, who said it would set "bad precedent" for future properties and development.
"It breaks my heart because I’d like to see that (school) there. It’d like to see more classrooms in our school system," he said. "But from a historic purpose, I can’t bring myself to do it."
The Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency was willing to give its parcel, adjacent to the property, for MNPS use as well, according to Mayor David Briley’s administration.
A renaissance at downtown’s Rolling Mill Hill has brought new shops, restaurants and apartment buildings to the 34-acre complex over the past decade.
The council voted 17-6 in favor of purchasing the property — four votes short of approval. Eight members abstained.
Now, the district must find a site for the arts school.
MNPS must look for new options
The Metro Council approved the $11.3 million deal in the 2017-18 budget.
"We’re disappointed," said Dawn Rutledge, a spokesperson for MNPS. "Not only did we believe that we had an ideal location for a new Nashville School of the Arts facility, Metro Council had already approved funding for MNPS to purchase the site. The district must now turn its attention to finding new options.”
The site, she said, is well-suited to accommodate the expansion needs of the school.
Officials have said the current layout of the building — set far into the parcel from Hermitage Avenue — would be challenging to develop a new campus without demolition.
Supporters of the deal said it would be better to start anew than to not buy the property at all. Elements of the historic structure was planned to be potentially incorporated into any new school building.
"MNPS was committed to preserving the historic spirit of the site, while at the same time creating an appropriate learning environment and the performance spaces needed for this celebrated school’s curriculum," Rutledge said.
Concerns on the fate of the site will remain, even without Metro’s purchase, Council member Colby Sledge said Tuesday at the council meeting.
"(The state) can sell it to a developer. They can do whatever they like with it. And we have no say — we have zero say — over what happens,” he said.
It would be better, Sledge said, to have the land go to Metro, because where the school is currently located in South Nashville, is "woefully inadequate."
The school should be closer downtown where it can be near cultural and musical amenities for its students.
Yihyun Jeong covers politics in Nashville for USA TODAY NETWORK – TENNESSEE. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @yihyun_jeong.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Nashville scraps buy of downtown historic site for Nashville School of Arts