Monday, October 5, 2015

Dunwoody's Austin Rebuild, Politics at its Best

A few years ago the DeKalb school system inspected, then rated and ranked, all the school buildings.  As with everything in DeKalb, the rankings were not consistent from school to school.  Dunwoody was due a new elementary school, and it turns out Austin won lost won lost the ranking, coming in as the worst facility among DES (new), Vanderlyn (the smartest trailer park in Georgia), Kingsley, and Chesnut.  Those in-the-know all thought Chesnut was the school to be rebuilt, and rebuilt to hold more kids.  But that's not the way the cookie crumbled. Based on inspections and rankings, Austin is to be torn down and rebuilt.

Sounds easy, but nothing is easy around these parts. 

How many students should the school hold?  Most, but not all, new elementary schools being built in DeKalb hold 900 students.  DES in Dunwoody is an example.  Many folks at DES are insistent that the new Austin be built to the 900 student size.  See letter below sent from DES to the DeKalb school board and other staff members.

There are issues building a 900-student Austin at the current Austin site.  The Austin site is smaller than DES and smaller than most other school footprints.  Austin also has a gas pipeline and some hefty power lines next door. Of course, Ryan Seacrest and a few thousand other kids survived the gas pipeline and power lines.  Traffic is also a concern for a larger school on Roberts Drive.  Some say we don't need to repeat the major errors of previous school boards (and Crawford Lewis) and build a large school on an already congested two lane road.  

So, why not make the Austin site larger?  DeKalb could purchase a few homes that border Austin, enlarging the school footprint.

DeKalb planners informed Austin folks (last week) that the current Austin site won't be the site of a new 900 student school.  Okay, where to find 15 acres nearby?

Well, just a couple hundred yards away, on the same road, is a large chunk of dirt.  Currently this land is used for a metro Atlanta baseball league. No problem. Have the DeKalb School District build two new baseball fields behind Peachtree, and have the metro Atlanta league and DeKalb work out a deal.  The fire station could be relocated.  The nature center would stay, and could easily partner with the new school.  Perhaps they could create their own version of a STEM program.  Note:  In the 60's, 70's, and 80's STEM was known as shop class or vocational school.  But those names are too hands-on for today's political class, who regulated factory jobs overseas, but that's another topic.

This plan will suffer the NIMBY treatment.  Those folks near this park already complain about lights and noise from, oh my, kids playing baseball.  They'll have a fit over a school.  And some powerful folks live in the neighborhood that backs up the the park and ball fields.  We need to protect a few homeowners from hearing kids all day, so expect to have this solution kicked to the curb. 

We will have many people not in favor of this plan.  But keep in mind, the current Austin site would be torn down and made into a park.  A deal could also involve buying the church beside Austin, and adding it to the park space (this property sold real cheap a couple years ago, not sure why the county or city didn't buy it)

If Dunwoody and DeKalb County School District do not make a deal and do a property swap, then the county could go in a new direction with Austin.  DeKalb says a new Austin would be built, on other property they have identified, within three miles of Austin.  Three miles is a long way.  Three miles gets you to Perimeter Mall.

And all this comes just in time for our local elections.  Ask candidates running for office what they would do in regards to a land swap with DeKalb.  Do you want Austin on Roberts, where the majority of kids walk and bike to school, or do you want it on Ashford Dunwoody Road?

One other option is a remodeling of what is now called Austin, and the SPLOST funds used to build a new Austin, a school that would take pressure off DES.