In a surprise decision Tuesday, the Metro Council decided the city of Nashville should not purchase a downtown property to become the new home of The Nashville School of the Arts.
The vote tears up plans to build a new arts magnet closer to the city’s arts and culture venues. And it casts doubt over the future of a prime piece of real estate on Rolling Mill Hill — as well as the historically significant former school building that still stands there.
“We’re disappointed. 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,” school district spokeswoman Dawn Rutledge wrote in a statement to WPLN. “The district must now turn its attention to finding new options.”
She said the site was well-suited for an expanded arts school, and its prominent location would have made a “strong visual statement.” She also said MNPS wanted to preserve the “historic spirit” of the site.
Yet that subject — the history of 88 Hermitage Ave. — is what troubled several members of the Metro Council.
The state-owned site is home to a 1940s school building where blind African-Americans were once educated. Local preservationists and state experts say it’s a rare surviving example of a segregation-era school for students with disabilities.
But school and city officials said they had plans to demolish the building and repurpose some of its material.
Councilman Fabian Bedne said he could not “in good conscience” vote for a plan that included demolition.
“If we as a city get into the business of demolishing buildings that we own, we are setting a bad precedent,” Bedne said. “It breaks my heart, because I’d love to see that [school] there. I’d like to see more capacity in our school system. But from a historic perspective, I just can’t bring myself to do it.”
The council vote was 17-6 in favor of purchasing the property for $11.3 million — but that’s four votes short of approval. Eight members abstained and eight did not vote or were not present. (Watch video of the discussion here.)
Building Remains Unprotected
Without that site, it’s unclear where the Nashville School of the Arts may build a new facility. Metro has estimated spending $111 million on that project.
The current arts school facility in South Nashville is “woefully inadequate” and was never designed for the creative programs that the school offers, says area Councilman Colby Sledge.
He favored the downtown site.
And Sledge warned that without Metro involvement, the same demolition concerns remain.
“[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,” Sledge said.
A spokesman for the Department of General Services said the agency doesn't have immediate plans for the property and will have additional discussion with Metro about possible next steps.