Thursday, June 20, 2013

Austin Elementary Has To Move, DeKalb Nixes Current Site

Our sources tell us the DeKalb County School System has decided the current neighborhood site is not suitable for a new school, citing the high-voltage power lines and the buried pipeline as safety concerns.  These power lines have never been an issue before.  One theory is the logistics of moving students to Kittredge for a year (moving Kittredge students south to Avondale for a year) was too much.  Worries from the Kittredge crowd were that if the magnet moved to Avondale for a year it would never return to Nancy Creek.

On the topic of Kittredge, this is the wrong place for a magnet.  That school is needed for the neighborhood students.  Montgomery and Ashford Park are growing yet the Board did not put enough SPLOST funds on the north side (faithful readers here know that we have pointed out that SPLOST funds were not allocated to needs, but instead divided so each Board member's district got "their fair share").

If the school system had a real planning program they would have renovated Austin and Chesnut (adding more seats at Chesnut) and built a new school in Dunwoody.  This new $20 million dollar school adds 250 seats to the Dunwoody cluster - that's it.  Our continuous growth bubble (at what point does the school system acknowledge it is not a bubble but actual long-term growth?)

The Austin community needs to now accept the fact that the school system will not build a new school at the current site.  This has been a concern for a couple of years now, but many were lulled into believing the site was okay.  Even Senator Fran Millar has mentioned at DCPC meetings that the site was okay, according to his sources with the State Dept of Ed.  Millar has worked hard for Austin and all schools in Dunwoody and DeKalb so expect him to be involved in a solution.

There are some guidelines on building near the pipe line but the State had granted waivers for this project, with certain conditions to be met.  So why are we now hearing the current Austin site has been thrown out by DeKalb?  As in past years, do we need to follow the money?  I thought Mr. Thurmond put all that behind us?

The yellow highlighted area is the 'no go' zone.  Of course it is okay for trailers and Austin's gym, just not for a school.

What happened?  Is the school system adding a new wrinkle to delay the project to see if the independent school Bill passes in the GA House and Senate next year?  Or, is the site really a danger?  After all, that school has been there for only 30 years and only 18,000 or so students have safely attended Austin.

Now what happens?  Well, DeKalb School System starts shopping for a new site.  Real estate deals makes many folks in DeKalb happy.  How about a site near Perimeter Mall?  I hear land is cheap in that area, and so many kids live in the nice ranch houses in the PCID.

No matter where the new school goes there will be redistricting in Dunwoody, oh joy.

Good news for the DeKalb School System and taxpayers alike.  There is a simple remedy to the Austin issue.

1.  Dunwoody Park, now home to two baseball fields, is traded to DeKalb School System. The new Austin is built where the baseball fields are now.

2.  The baseball fields are moved to Brook Run (sorry dog park and Save Dunwoody, we need baseball fields because the Peachtree middle school team is awesome)

3.  The Nature Center stays but now has a bigger role, working with the science teachers at the new Austin (Alan will need more staff, maybe the Red Shirts can help)

4.   The City of Dunwoody receives the current Austin site.  The building is knocked down for a local park.  A previous park study showed the need for a local park in this part of town. There will be discussion of using it for a senior center or something else, but the only non-residential building needed in a neighborhood is a school (not a senior center, not an arts n' crafts building, not anything but grass, swings, a few benches, and a picnic pavilion).

5.  The City of Dunwoody receives the abandoned school on Chamblee Dunwoody Road.  This site has potential for many things from retail, recreation center, fire station, homes, the home of the new Dunwoody community swimming pool, etc.

Stay tuned as this story is moving in many directions.  I know Superintendent Thurmond wants what is best for Dunwoody residents and the children of DeKalb.  Expect to see Mr. Thurmond and Fran at city hall soon having tea with Warren.  Mr. Thurmond, when discussing the issue please feel free to contact the people living in the Austin area.  We are here to help  :)

Also, next week former Board member Dr. Walker gets his say in front of a judge.  Walker will make valid points next week regarding the SACS investigation, but it won't matter what the judge says.  The governor has made his position clear. Walker's fate is in the hands of the Georgia Supreme Court, not the governor's.  We still expect Walker to win his case with the GA Supreme Court based on due process and the taking away of my (and yours) vote. 


Dunwoody Mom said...

Rick, do you know if the site was nixed by DCSS or by the State DOE?

Sight Edman said...

A few random comments...

The power line issue has been debated by "funded" researchers for decades...maybe longer, but to be clear, is this concern about children's health coming from the same group that has put cell phone towers on school property?

I would argue the current property should be sold to developers and put back in the tax digest. Just me.

The state could also give a waver that would permit a school in a high density area like Perimeter Center, and as odd as it might sound to lease and repurpose office space we have some fine "early prep" operations in a well known retail area. If it were good, and better yet, private maybe some office workers who live outside Dunwoody would be supportive.

Or we could encourage folks to "opt out for a better education" but that's not aligned with City branding and doesn't quite pledge allegiance to the "sense of place" flag waving over City Hall and CVB.

I freely acknowledge that suburbs, Dunwoody in particular, are places dedicated to the worship of children. Dunwoody is not now, and probably should never become an "age in place" locale, so I don't have a real issue with "let the old farts find their own facilities--isn't that what BP's and Churches are for?" approach. However, to be equitable (no such thing as "fair") should we not apply the same logic to the tennis playin' baseball pitchin' young 'uns? Doesn't Dunwoody Baptist have soccer and baseball fields? What's all that flat space under lights at Redfield? Are swim meets being held at city facilities? Shouldn't they be?

I know, I know...three P's...pavement...police...and PARKS--after all it's the law. Just seems like whenever any three are gathered in the name of parks there are at least four opinions.

My last Canadian penny...

Anonymous said...

Of course the new school won't be built there. There are lots of reasons, one of which you did not mention that is the site is too small for the number of kids who go to school there. You can talk about waivers, but nevertheless, a large elementary school needs a large piece of land for parking, playgrounds, carpool, etc. It needs to be moved to a larger location, and if that location is more central, so much the better. I don't see the conspiracy in this that you seem to.

Regarding your comments about Chesnut: it doesn't need any more seats. It had two empty classrooms this year.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:38 AM,

Central location as in Perimeter Mall? There is a huge concentration of kids in the Austin area (Redfield, Mill Glen, Wynterhall, Wyntercreek, etc.) so I'd say the location is centrally located in regards to the population.

Anonymous said...

For two years we have been told the current site was okay. Just two months ago we were shown the new blueprint and such for the school, parking. why the change?

Anonymous said...

How can Vanderlyn have 200 kids over capacity every year and Chesnut have empty classrooms? Obviously some attendance lines need changed.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @10:54: great question. From my observation, it is due to the fact that many Vanderlyn parents don't want their kids to go anywhere else. They would rather their kids sit in trailers year after year than go elsewhere. This suits Chesnut parents just fine, who enjoy the small atmosphere. And since the current situation makes both Vanderlyn and Chesnut parents happy, why would the DCSS powers that be rock the boat and redistrict? They'd be crazy!

Anon at 10:50am: You could ask the same question about so many DCSS decisions. E.g. for years DHS parents were told that if we just jumped through Hoops X, Y and Z, we could lose the Block Schedule. We jumped through Hoops X, Y and Z. Now for two years in a row, excuses have been made as to why we can't lose it (even though other DCSS schools such as Lakeside and Chamblee aren't required to be on block). Why? Because the powers that be at DCSS say whatever is convenient for them to say at the time. Surely you are not just now figuring that out?

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:33AM

Don't tell DCSS that someone in Dunwoody is happy. That is a sure way to get things changed.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @11:33 Hey @ViewFromWise/@GaryGayBetz/Glory Hole/Colleen/Max got your 51 personalities now on everybody's blog?

Saw your Hawk video today. Thought you could keep me out by making you youtube private? Still doesn't mean you're as tough as you talk.

Anonymous said...

Why are the Austin parents so set on having it stay where it is? Don't a lot of them live in the Branches? Isn't it possible just to meet somewhere in the middle - compromise?

Anonymous said...


What 14 acres between The Branches and the current site do you suggest?

Anonymous said...

Well what about someplace off of Ashford Center Parkway, or whatever that road is that dead ends into Ashford Dunwoody at DBC? Or someplace off of Ashford Dunwoody Rd near Mt. Vernon? I think there are some self-storage places over there that we could probably all live without... I guess I am trying to understand what is so magical about the current location and why the notion of moving it is is seen as a conspiracy of some kind.

DunwoodyTalk said...

Nothing magical about that site except it is within 1 mile (walking distance) of 70% of the students. The school system sent out detailed plans and renderings of a 2-story school for the current site, and discussed relocations for one year during the rebuild. School lets out for the summer and many parents tune out (can you blame them?) DeKalb school stuff for a couple months, then the school system employees leak info they have changed their mind on the site.

Anonymous said...

Ashford Center? You realize then only 40 kids or so of the 900 will be able to walk to a school there? Why do some around here feel compelled to move the site out of the neighborhood setting when every other elementary school in Dunwoody is in the middle of a residential area? What's you beef keeping it on Roberts Anon 11:15 AM? And you thin the storage centers and such will just roll over and give the property away?

Anonymous said...

I would contend that those making decisions about where to put schools and how to fit students into buildings have absolutely no concern as to whether or not the students bus, drive, or walk to school. The phrase "Once they're on a bus, it doesn't matter how far they have to go" was uttered on more than one occasion by DCSS staff. I'm not saying it's right. I'm just saying, that's the way it is.

They talk a good game, but then they do what they want to do to make things work the way that they want.

Anonymous said...

No I don't think the self storage place will give it away but there's a thing called eminent domain. Governments can get property for fair market value and businesses know it and so they negotiate. I think keeping it on Roberts is a great idea but if it can't be done economically due to factors relating to that site, then it should be placed somewhere where it can be built economically.

As far as DCSS quietly changing the plans when they think no one is looking, yeah, that sucks and they do it pretty frequently. You may recall a few years ago when they suddenly announced that the K-5 elementary school they were building on Womack would, never mind, actually be for 4th and 5th graders only. Never mind those little kindergardner-sized toilets!

I don't think Austin is being singled out here, is all I am saying. I think this is standard operating procedure at DCSS. They tell you what you want to hear up until the point that they decide what it is they actually want to do, and then they just do that.

Dunwoody Mom said...

I contacted Mike Rowland, Facilities Director, at the GADOE. Below is his response, which is proof that DCSS is playing their normal, dirty little games:

"I have personally reviewed the site application for New Austin Elementary Facility in DeKalb County. The site has been approved and a site code and facility code have been issued pending the district's implementation of mitigations identified in the engineer's Environmental Site Assessment and Risk Hazard Analysis. Additionally, I have approved the district's request for a variance to the required minimum acreage for this location. To my knowledge, there is no GaDOE action holding up this process.

I will be out of town until Thursday, but I will be glad to discuss this with you personally if you will call me Thursday at 404-656-2454.

Mike Rowland
Facilities Services Director
Georgia Dept. Of Education
404-656-2454. Office
404-617-9409. Cell "

Anonymous said...

You're gonna trust Mike Rowland from the State of Georgia that your child won't get leukemia from exposure to a power-frequency magnetic field? Not while I'm responsible for my child!

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:57 PM,

You still wearing that tin foil hat?

Anonymous said...

Family that has lived nxt to Austin/power lines in backyrd for 45 plus yrs w/ NO HEALTH issues, radioactive children or glow in the dark grandchildren. Why can't schools build UP in the south to accommodate growth??