Fight over old school’s demolition moves to court

Monday, November 23, 2009 at 1:39am

Nashville’s latest battle between historic preservationists and developers is headed to court.

The Metro Historic Zoning Commission voted 4-2 this week to disapprove a demolition permit request from Franklin-based Advent Land Co., a development group seeking to tear down the majority of the old Ransom School near Elmington Avenue to make way for an 11-unit residential project.

The structure, built in 1926 and added to later, is protected by the neighborhood’s historic overlay.

In preparation of the commission’s decision, attorneys had already drafted a pending suit that argues economic hardship prevents refurbishing the structure in its entirety. The commission’s decision triggered the appeal, which will be heard Dec. 4 in Davidson County Chancery Court by Judge Russell Perkins.

“The facts are overwhelming that there’s no way to rehabilitate this space for residential without it being a financially foolish venture, “ said attorney Tom White, speaking on behalf of the developers.

The Ransom building — which most recently operated as the Randall’s Learning Center for Metro Nashville Public Schools — is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. However, it remains hidden from much of the public, as it’s flanked by Interstate 440 and shadowed by its retaining wall.

The school was designed by Nashville’s Warfield and Keeble, the firm of famous architect Edwin A. Keeble, hailed for producing designs for a host of city landmarks including Vanderbilt University’s Memorial Gymnasium, the Life and Casualty Tower, Vine Street Christian Church, Westminster Presbyterian Church and Woodmont Christian Church. Historians also remember Ransom school as one of the city’s first desegregated schools.

“It’s really part of the fabric of that neighborhood,” said commissioner Allen DeCuyper, who voted against the demolition request. “It’s also that style of public institutional use that is no longer built.”

The same developers earlier this year proposed a similar residential project that would have required the demolition of the entire building When the historical commission shot it down, the group presented the current design which preserves the oldest portion of the school as a single occupancy, but still tears down most of the structure.

“I’ve been on the commission for 12 or 15 years,” DeCuyper said. “ I can never remember a situation where we’ve allowed a demolition of a structure that was in that condition.”

“They’re planning on gutting the building and rebuilding everything from there,” he said. “Well, of course that’s the most expensive way to do it, which would lead to economic hardship, but there’s so many other ways to approach it.”

But with the building vacant, neighbors in the area say the boarded-up building has attracted vandals and criminal activity, according the community’s representative District 25 Councilman Sean McGuire, who mailed a letter to the commission expressing the community’s desire that the project be approved.

“I’ve gotten a sense for a long time now the majority of the neighborhood just wants to see something done on that property,” McGuire said. “Whether the school stays or goes is inconsequential to most of the neighborhood.

“Unfortunately, we have to continue to wade this out and see how it plays out in the courts,” he said.



1 Comment on this post:

By: Time for Truth on 11/24/09 at 7:59

When developers want something done, they hire Tom White. He knows everyone, is polite and knowledgeable, and usually wins.

I'm conflicted on this one, especially if the neighbors really are in favor of the project. I would be inclined to allow all but the original building to be razed depending on what the rest of the project would look like. I remember when developers were allowed to tear down an historic apartment building to put up a Walgreen's (Tom White again) then the same developer built a carbon copy of the building farther down West End. With expensive condos rather than affordable apartments.

Why can't Metro schools use the building? Keeble also designed the much newer Hillsboro High, one of the few postwar schools that doesn't look like a prison.

I'm wondering when Baptist Hospital will go after the old Franklin School near their campus.