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VOL. 38 | NO. 47 | Friday, November 21, 2014

Hillsboro High land sale: New school, big profit

Selling 11 of 28 acres could bring Metro almost $100M

By Hollie Deese

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Merritt Rowe knows her children will never personally benefit from any changes to Hillsboro High School in Green Hills, but as the parent of two current students and another starting next year, it is something she is willing to fight for and encourages other parents – especially those of future students – to do the same.

“We need the community to support this project because it will not only benefit our students, but the Green Hills community, as well, since the students who come through that school reach far beyond the Green Hills community,” says Rowe, co-president of the Hillsboro PTSO.

Metro Nashville Public School officials held a meeting at the school this week, inviting community input about constructing a new building to replace the old.

Replacing the building would also open private development opportunities on the school’s current site, 28 acres of prime real estate on Hillsboro Pike across from The Mall at Green Hills, in the heart of the commercial district.

Selling 11 acres of that land for commercial development could fetch close to $100 million, more than enough to build a new school on the site.

“Any decisions about land use, etc., would be part of the decision-making process that we are starting with this public engagement process,” says Metro Nashville Public Schools spokeswoman Olivia Brown in an email. “I think any and every idea will be considered as we work to make these decisions. We are still very much in the early stages of this planning.”

A draft of the study for Hillsboro is on the MNPS website, produced by architecture and design firm Perkins + Will Global. The study includes the possibility of the current school being replaced by a six-story, 300,000 square-foot structure at the back of the property with an entrance at Glen Echo Road, while retail and business uses would be developed along the Hillsboro Pike side.

The proposed school would accommodate 1,800 students and include consolidated athletic facilities to the south and a student parking deck. Any new commercial development fronting Hillsboro Pike would be separated from the school by a new connector road extending from Glen Echo to Richard Jones Road.

Brown says this is just one option, and there will not be a recommendation until after they hear from the community and obtain more information. A traffic study will need to be conducted first, and the firm to conduct it has not been chosen yet.

A similar study also has been conducted for Hillwood High in West Meade, which also is in need of major renovation and is located on prime residential real estate adjacent to Hillwood Country Club.

That school would relocate six miles to Bellevue and would be replaced by single-family homes. A community meeting for Hillwood will also be held, but the date has not been scheduled.

When it comes to Hillsboro, Brown expects numerous public meetings before a recommendation is drafted for consideration by the Board of Education Capital Needs Committee.

“The school is in need of renovation or replacement, and the cost is going to be expensive, so we want to make sure we look at every possibility and make decisions that will work best for the future of the school as well as the community,’’ she says.

Rowe is willing to listen to any and all options, as long as the result is a better facility for students to meet the current – and future – learning and enrollment needs.

“Bottom line is, we just want a new building, and we are happy however we get there,” Rowe explains. “But we need a new facility, whether that is renovating the current facility that we have into a 21st century building, or whether that is putting a new building on the site of the property. We are happy either way.”

$30M renovation tab

The original Hillsboro High School first opened its doors to 164 students in 1939, but was destroyed by a fire in 1952. While it was being rebuilt on the same site, students and faculty moved to Ward-Belmont, a girl’s school that closed in 1951 for financial reasons.

Several renovations and additions have occurred since the replacement of that building, including a renovation in 1995. In 2007, the school was upgraded to meet requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Today, most everyone can agree there are some serious problems with the school.

“Hillsboro is among the top of our project needs on our capital improvements list,” says Brown. “Renovations will cost $30 million plus, and with that kind of cost, it makes sense to look at whether renovating or building a new building is the better option. The current building was constructed in the 1950s and is in need of a complete overhaul.”

As a parent, Rowe says there are definitely some concerns about the building.

“We need a new HVAC system,” she says. “Our heating and air is not consistent or reliable. We need a much larger library that we would love to be the central part of the school where students could come.

A new Hillsboro High would be built on 17 acres of the 28-acre tract at an estimated cost of $60M. The new school would feature a six-story main building and a parking garage topped with an athletic field.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

“Our classrooms, even though it is a large building, the space is inefficient. Research and studies show that the way children learn best these days is not in these small little classrooms but in more open meeting areas.

“It is not conducive to 21st century learning. There is 21st century work going on in that school, and we just want the outside to reflect the amazing things going on [on] the inside.”

And with so many buildings to maintain on one campus – six at Hillsboro – maintenance can be expensive and time-consuming.

The age of the school makes electrical capacity an issue with current tech needs, and security is not where people want it to be, with dozens of exterior doors that can be tough to monitor.

Brown notes she is still waiting on a report from the school’s construction office that will provide specifics on some of the current needs at the school, but that the different additions that have been added over the years are not suited to the programming at the school, nor do not make the best use of the space available.

“The cafeteria space is not large enough,” she says. “There isn’t a good commons area, and the mechanical systems need updating.

“An evaluation completed a couple of years ago estimated renovation costs at just around $30 million, but we expect that number will be higher due to changes in cost since its original calculation.”

What’s property worth?

The cost of the building’s renovations isn’t the only number that has escalated over the years. The study done by Perkins + Will suggests selling 11 of the 28 acres of school property – last appraised at $45.8 million – to pay for the new school, which could cost $60 million.

But that last appraisal is likely way off, according to Green Hills resident and Realtor Richard Courtney, considering how desirable that land is to commercial developers and the rising cost of area real estate.

“[The property’s] worth as much as anything that has ever sold here,” says Courtney, real estate columnist for The Ledger. After asking around, he says, he estimates the land’s at no less than $100 per square foot and as high as $200 per square foot.

“At 43,560 feet an acre, that is a lot of money,” he adds.

By that math, the 28-acre site would be worth $ 243,936,000 at $200 a square foot, or $121,968,000 at $100 a square foot.

The 11 acres that would be open to developers would then be worth between $47,916,000 and $95,832,000.

According to the latest study, the existing site is made up of many different zoning districts, including multi- and single-family home sites as well as office. The proposed rezoning would encourage a mix of uses and enhanced pedestrian environments.

Historical significance

Not everyone wants to see the school replaced.

Historic Nashville Inc., the preservation nonprofit for Davidson County, placed the school on its annual “Nashville Nine” list of endangered historic sites and will aim to preserve the school because it is an example of 1950s modern architecture.

If placed on the National Historic Register of Historic Places, renovations to the school could become more difficult, take more time to complete and be more expensive.

Historic Nashville officials did not respond by press time.

Proponents of modernizing Hillsboro High, such as Rowe, say it can only benefit the community as a whole, not just the students.

In March 2014, the Green Hills Transportation Plan was developed with the goals of expanding economic and environmental sustainability of the Green Hills area, and that study says a new school could play a key role in boosting pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

“What we are looking for is a building that not only serves our students and families, but also the community,” Rowe says. “They are looking for more green space, more space to hold community meetings, and we want this building to serve that purpose. We are really excited about that possibility.”

Over the past 15 years, The Green Hills Action Partners, a volunteer organization, has worked together with Metro planners, businesses, developers, and neighbors to help improve the Green Hills Business District, and they hope the new school – which is very much a hot topic of conversation – will serve that community purpose too.

“The future of Hillsboro High School is on everyone’s mind,” says Mary Jon Hicks, co-founder of TGHAP. “There are many lively discussions going on about all the possibilities that could happen at that location.

“One idea is to look beyond building just a new school,’’ she explains. “Instead, build a multi-use complex which would not only include a 21st century, state-of-the-art high school, but would also include space that the Green Hills community and public could use and enjoy without interfering with the school, like a community center with public meeting rooms, amphitheater and outdoor spaces for events, walking trails.

“Green Hills is in great need for a community gathering space.”

Business support

Despite the potential traffic headaches construction of a new school could bring, some local businesses are all for a change on that site.

David Levy, owner of Levy’s Clothier in the nearby Greenbriar Village Shopping Center where Parnassus Books and the Donut Den are located, is on board despite all of the growth Green Hills is currently experiencing.

“It is rare you see Metro Schools doing any changes to their property, so it is pretty exciting to see Metro looking at alternatives,” he says.

“To get the school rebuilt without the cost of remodeling, and then pay for it virtually by selling the property on the front end, is a pretty novel approach.”

Plus, redevelopment on the school site could mean improved access to his store.

“I think there are a lot of options, including perhaps better access for us and additional development on our side of the street, and possibly in our shopping center,” he says.

“There is a lot of potential there, and we would be happy to see how it works out.”

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