More Dialogue Urged To Determine Vacant Vance School Building’s Future

More Dialogue Urged To Determine Vacant Vance School Building’s Future
by Trennie L. Williams, Str., PhDc
The building at 673 Vance Ave., Memphis Tenn., was erected decades ago as Vance Middle School. Word is out that Shelby County Schools’ last resort is to raze the now vacant building.
More dialogue is urged to determine the school building’s future.
Vance School with established with success in mind. The school’s colors were hunter green and white, with the motto Ad Astra Per Aspera, interpreted To the Stars Through Perseverance. During its active years, Vance promoted “academic excellence, high and rigorous standards, data-driven instruction, family engagement, and meaningful professional development.” About seven years ago, four of their teachers achieved the highest rating on the Teacher Effectiveness Measure. Vance student raised $100 to benefit Hurricane Sandy victims; collected clothes and toiletries to help Expeditionary Learning School for Community Leaders students in Brooklyn, NY; and donated $1,309.01 to the American Cancer Society.
Less than two years later, Vance Middle School declined to 170 students with 6-9 percent of them achieving math proficiency and 10-14 percent in Reading/Language Arts, well below the Tennessee average of 52 percent. Due to the low proficiency and attendance population, Vance was shut down, sending students to other nearby schools.
The Vance School lot, previously known as S.A. Owen College before merging with LeMoyne College in 1968, was vacated in 2014 due to low performance and attendance measures.
New Olivet Worship Center Pastor and former school board member Rev. Dr. Kenneth Whalum, Jr., with support of a Memphis City Council resolution and other government officials, including Mayor Jim Strickland, proposed a few years ago to lease the property for $1 to convert Vance Middle School into a facility to provide programs and other resources that would benefit the community.
SCS in 2016 rejected Whalum’s proposal without any details for not allowing an established organization to maintain the property while providing some sustainable community needs. The school board’s Facilities Committee Chairman Bill Orgel said at the time that there was a possibility of the district needing the building for a school in the future. Whalum noted that re-establishing the building as a school was not an issue for him because this sort of planning was part of his initial proposal.
“It is clear that this SCS Board doesn’t care what I think,” said Whalum in a Silver Star News interview this week when asked about the vacant Vance Middle School property. “They have lied in the past concerning Vance and many other issues. Hopefully, new Commissioner Althea Green can bring compassion, courage, integrity, and love for children over consultants.”
Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris a few months ago sought the county government taking over the Vance Middle School property. Lee’s goal is to help maintain the property while looking for revitalization plans for the school campus.
In February 2019, just a couple of months ago, SCS announced plans to spend less than $1 million to tear down Vance Middle School because of its poor condition. This would be the school district’s answer to combating blight and gentrification. According to the school board, SCS would continue to maintain the demolished property with plans to build a new school when the time comes for the growing community.
The school board would have to vote and approve the funding that is currently available for tearing down the school building. Vance is one of several school buildings SCS has listed for possible demolition.
St. John Baptist Church Pastor Henry Key is concerned about the future of the Vance School building and its use. He would like to see more discussion among SCS and grassroots community leaders before taking more steps with the property.
“Until the…SCS plans become a reality, I trust that the wisdom of that the Shelby County School Board will prevail by incorporating the palpable progress to date made by the City of Memphis, The Memphis Housing Authority, the Rise Foundation, Score CDC, and several other South City Partners/Stakeholders before taking a wrecking ball to Vance Middle School,” said Key.
“Even so, I strongly hold that a thorough vetting of the options about Vance Middle School best serves Education, 38126, and our Great City,” Key continues. “To that end, imminent plans are being developed–within the South City parameters—to have a local architectural firm conduct a feasibility study to advance and promote the re-use of the Vance Middle School as a one-stop hub of information for 38126 as well as our neighbors.”
Key noted several other things the Vance community would benefit from: a state-of-the-art library; swimming pool; athletic fields; retail centers and business offices. Some of these sorts of facilities were a part of the Vance community years ago. Piece by piece, the units vanished without return.
Now is the time to explore every option to improve the overall community. Rev. Key and St. John Baptist Church, 640 Vance, has conceptualized an architectural study to help stabilize the neighborhood, naming it South City Stabilization Study program. The scope of the study would be to consider the community’s ideas that would benefit both youth and elderly citizens as well as young, growing families who live in the area.
“The people and cultures of 38126 have persevered, despite meager means, and went on to become citizens of the world, catapulted by a first-class education received in institutions like Vance Middle School,” said Key. “It would be a travesty if Institutions such as Vance Middle School, and the other twenty-seven (27) vacated education-based sites strewn over Memphis, were to become a land-grab to feed a highly lucrative grist mill known as a REIT, a real estate investment trust.”
A part of the property is being used by a rugby league, hosting 10 teams that meet and play games at Vance. SCS partnered with Advanced Memphis and Memphis Inner City Rugby to use the football field. There is opportunity for more of the grounds and the 100,000 square-foot building to either be in operation, or some sort of plan to help bring vibrant activities to the community.
With so many ideas and suggestions for the lot, community leaders, fellow citizens and others should have some extensive dialogue about the future of Vance School and its amenities. There is no room for one-sided actions the benefit the selfish, greedy ambitions of those who would like to take advantage of getting the prime property. This is a grand occasion to for all sincere, interested people to gather around to hear, share and prepare a plan that is most suitable for the Memphis metropolitan area.
This is where my expertise steps in. My corporate and community development skills would be a neutral, uplifting asset in helping to look at the big, bright picture that matches the greatest needs identified by the group sessions. Let us move forward, making plans for a sound, respectful and productive set of meetings for the betterment of the Vance Middle School property.

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