Members of the Maury County Commission are putting the brakes on a proposal to take ownership of Columbia’s closed McDowell Elementary School.
Commissioners initially expressed interest in taking over the seven-acre property located along West 7th Street when the school district did not receive any bids for the property.
The decision follows a recent claim by school district personnel, who say an investor planning to purchase the site was incorrectly told that they could not dismantle the deteriorating school building that has stood on the property for more than 50 years.
“This is a result of the bids being short-circuited as a result of some bad information,” said Michael Fulbright, chair of the local school board. “We know this is a valuable property.”
In an interview with The Daily Herald this week, Columbia Mayor Chaz Molder said the party interested in purchasing the property was told the city could not ensure that the school, which stands in disrepair, would be approved for demolition by the city’s historical commission.
The condition of the school has remained the subject of concern by educators, students and parents for the past decade.
Members of the school board also expressed concern in moving forward with the deal during a weekend retreat.
In a proposal made by Commissioner Scott Sumners this week, the body voted in approval of a plan to reconsider the acquisition of the property when it reconvenes in January.
“I would like the entities to come together and try to figure out a use for the property,” said Sumners, who represents District 5. “I need to know what the school board has in mind for that property.”
The site is estimated to be valued at nearly $2 million.
“I don’t think we have any business looking at this property right now,” said Commissioner Sue Stephenson, District 6, who encouraged the school board to sell the property.
“We need to back off and let the schools deal with that property,” Stephenson said.
Other commissioners express concern for taking over the property without a clear vision for its future use.
“I need to make sure we are buying a need and not a speculative property,” said Craig Harris, who represents District 2.
With a 138-year legacy, McDowell held its final day of classes in May following years of deliberation on what to do with the property, including an $18-million proposal to build a new school on the site.
Now, as the school district and county commission continue to consider the transfer, school leaders are considering moving forward with the demolition of the school building.
The demolition is estimated to cost about $400,000.
“This money right now, to me, just seems like a necessary investment into something we own,” said school board member Austin Hooper, District 8.
McDowell is celebrated as having been one, if not the most, diverse campus in the school district. About 20% of the school’s students speak Spanish as their first language and the student body is almost evenly divided in racial and ethnic background.
Following the closing at the end of last school year, McDowell’s students and their educators were transferred to other schools in Columbia, including Riverside Elementary.
Reach Mike Christen at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @MikeChristenCDH and on Instagram @michaelmarco. Please consider supporting his work and that of other Daily Herald journalists by subscribing to the publication.