Metro officials are still hoping East Nashville’s Highland Heights building can be renovated as the home of KIPP Academy’s new high school and community center, with a site survey and architectural recommendations expected to come in late fall or winter.
A recent Tennessean story had inaccurately suggested KIPP would be getting a new building and the 1930s-era school facility wouldn't be renovated, prompting Metro, MNPS and KIPP leaders to hold a special roundtable meeting Friday morning to clarify the project’s status. The gathering, which included questions from two reporters in the room, lasted an hour and a half.
The Metro Council already allocated $10 million for the building’s rehab when it approved Mayor Karl Dean’s capital-spending plan in the spring of 2010. KIPP, a charter school that already operates a middle school in one section of the building, is to lease the rehabbed space from Metro. Part of the renovated building would also function as a community center.
But the project’s architects — Gobbell Hays Partners Inc. — are still assessing the feasibility of retrofitting the decayed portion of the Highland Heights building, Ron Gobbell, the firm’s president, told officials Friday.
Mold is prevalent on many of the walls. Dead animals can be found in some rooms. And major construction work would be required to make the building compliant with federal Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.
“We haven’t found anything in this building that is extraordinary,” Gobbell said. “But we have found a lot of things — like environmental issues — that will have to be addressed in the construction process. We’re going to have to put it all in one basket and sort it out.”
Gobbell didn’t rule out the possibility that the project could exceed $10 million. Additional funding would require Metro Council approval through a supplemental appropriation.
“We don’t know that,” Gobbell said when asked whether the funding is sufficient. “It’s a good starting price.”
Gobbell said his firm should produce some answers by “October, November or December” when a more detailed analysis of the Highland Heights building could be available.
From there, Metro officials would then decide whether it’s in the best interest to move forward with the project.
“There’s going to be a process to look at it,” said Danielle Mezera, the mayor’s office education director.
Some critics have questioned whether $10 million is best spent on a building occupied by a charter school, which uses public dollars but is privately operated. Others have wondered why KIPP is ostensibly getting a better deal than other charters in Nashville.
But Metro Councilman Jamie Hollin, who represents the surrounding neighborhood, said he appreciates the mayor’s support of Highland Heights. He suggested critics of the project live in wealthier parts of the county.
“The process is still developing,” Hollin said of plans for Highland Height’s rehab. “A few people from wealthier parts of Nashville are using this as an opportunity to besmirch the mayor. And it’s unjustified.
“I support him,” he said. “The constituents and neighbors of the Fifth District support him, and congratulate him, and thank him for funding this project.”
(Editor's note: This story has been modified.)