NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — James Lawson High School is a lot for freshman Elianna Smith to take in. “It’s really big, so it’s definitely going to be easy to get lost,” she said.
Smith and a number of other Bellevue residents turned out for the ribbon cutting ceremony and tour of the school on Thursday, July 27, marking a long-awaited moment in the community.
Talks about building James Lawson High began more than seven years ago. From there, land was purchased and bonds were proposed to build the school, which ended up costing about $124 million.
The high school is named after Rev. James Lawson, an activist who played a key role in Nashville’s civil rights movement. He was a leader, mentor, and trainer of college students whose nonviolent protests led to the desegregation of downtown lunch counters and other public facilities in the 1960s.
James Lawson High will replace 64-year-old Hillwood High, a place parent Shawna Selby said needed a lot of work.
“As a parent who’s been there for awhile, it’s smaller and it is also in a little bit of disrepair,” she said. “I mean, they do the best they can with it, but it’s nothing like this.”
Sitting on 273 acres of land on Highway 70 South, James Lawson High is filled with state-of-the-art equipment, great views, high-end athletic and arts facilities, and talented employees, according to officials.
With more than 150 teachers and staff, the new school is a 307,000-square-foot facility designed to accommodate up to 1,600 students. Built at a cost of approximately $124,000,000, it was designed with the Academies of Nashville model in mind. The school has a theater/auditorium with seating for 500 and a gymnasium that can seat more than 1,600. Also included are a small practice gym and wrestling rooms, various art rooms, music rooms, and choir practice areas. Exterior sports amenities include baseball, softball, football, soccer, and practice fields. Sustainability was at the forefront of the design process, with a geothermal system to heat and cool the building and a 75Kw solar array atop the school, along with a partial green roof visible from the third-floor level in front of the cafeteriaMetro Nashville Public Schools’ Facebook post
Principal Dr. Stephen Sheaffer said this school is also prepared to keep students safe.
“The whole building was designed with safety in mind, from the number of exterior entrances, which is, we’re down to one main entrance. That wasn’t the case at our previous building,” he said. “We’re definitely complying with all the new state laws that have come out recently around security and things to upgrade.”
With the ribbon cut and the doors open at James Lawson High, more than 1,200 students are feeling a variety of emotions as they prepare to start learning in this new building in August.
“It’s going to be a little scary knowing that we’re going to be the first people to go the four years, but I think it’s still a really good opportunity and I’m really excited for it,” Smith said.
Meanwhile, more schools are in the works for Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS).
Lakeview Elementary and Percy Priest Elementary will be torn down and rebuilt to accommodate more students, while Paragon Mills Elementary will receive renovations and an addition. In addition, the district has plans to build a brand new middle school in Cane Ridge.
As for the Hillwood High building, MNPS said it will be used as a professional learning and training space for other Nashville schools. The district will also utilize the facility as a temporary space for other schools as campuses across the city undergo renovations.
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James Lawson High is hosting a community open house from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, July 29, before the first day of classes on Tuesday, Aug. 8.