PHOTO: The Abbey Leix Mansion, a main building of O’More College, seen on Tuesday, February 13, 2018, just hours after the announcement of O’More’s acquisition by Belmont University/Photo by Brooke Wanser.
By BROOKE WANSER
O’More College of Art and Design, Franklin’s only four-year university, will be moving to Nashville after Belmont University purchased the school.
The move was announced at a press conference on Tuesday morning, not long after faculty and students received an email informing them of the news.
The school specializes in graphic, fashion and interior design, and is currently housed in a Victorian mansion in downtown Franklin.
“We have joined forces with Belmont University to create the O’More School of Design at Belmont, beginning the fall semester of 2018. This August, our beloved institution will settle into a new home on Belmont’s campus in Nashville and enter into its next phase of providing world-class design education,” she wrote.
Fox was named as interim president of O’More in 2017, replacing former president David Rosen. She also serves on the City of Franklin’s newly formed public arts commission.
Belmont University, already well-known for its College of Visual and Performing Arts, will benefit from O’More’s programs, which will be housed under that program.
“Nashville is already positioned as a rising star in the fashion world, and the O’More School of Design at Belmont will elevate that status as we anticipate our programs will quickly make a significant impact on our city and the design industry at large,” he said.
The program will abandon the Abbey Leix Mansion beginning in the fall of 2018. O’More was a Ward-Belmont graduate who trained for interior design at Parsons in New York City and in Paris.
“By combining forces, Belmont and O’More will have the reach and talent to accelerate and elevate design education in Southeast and beyond,” Fox wrote in conclusion.
For students, the news, which was announced via email Tuesday morning prior to a press conference, came as a shock. At 3 p.m., students attended a question and answer meeting with Fox, which 22-year-old fashion merchandising student Jamie Poethke described as hostile, with swearing and raised voices.
Poethke said students were told that the board voted on the acquisition in late January.
Though the second-year student said many of her classmates were upset about the transition, she defended the president. Poethke said she bonded with Fox over their shared Myers-Briggs results during a first semester English class that Fox taught.
Contributing factors to the decision, Poethke speculated, included a “squirrel problem,” expenses in maintaining the property, and the building’s inclusion in the historic district, which limits possible renovations.
“It came to a point where, doing this is going to fix a lot of our problems,” Poethke said of the move. “Shari is the best person I know. She would never do this if it wasn’t going to be what’s best for us.”
The question of what will happen to the building and property, now owned by Belmont, are ones that have occurred to Poethke. She said she wants to see the Franklin property used as a historic museum.
Emily Magid, a renowned Franklin philanthropist and longtime volunteer with the Heritage Foundation, said developers had called the organization upon the announcement of the college’s acquisition.
“They wanted to know if we would make a ruckus if they wanted to develop it,” she said. “What do you think?”
Annabeth Hayes, the Heritage Foundation’s director of preservation said she was surprised to hear the news. Though the Foundation is not involved with the property, “we’d love to be part of that conversation,” she said.
Many of the students live in Franklin, and will likely make the move to Nashville, Poethke said. “I think it’s going to make Franklin older, because this has brought in a younger crowd,” she said.
For Poethke, whose guiding principle is, “You can’t grow without change, and you can’t change without being uncomfortable,” the move will open new avenues to her. She said it will bring potential opportunities such as studying abroad and taking more business-oriented classes.
“It’s hard to get that started and get that funded,” Poethke said of studying abroad. “And Belmont has that.”