By John Schaffner

Atlanta Public Schools announced Feb. 3 that it plans to relieve overcrowding at Sutton Middle School by constructing a new state-of-the-art high school in Buckhead and converting the present North Atlanta High School facility into a second International Baccalaureate middle school.

Although a site for the new high school has not yet been identified publicly, school officials plan for the new school to be open in 2013. In the meantime, eight portable classrooms will be added to the Sutton campus next fall as a temporary solution to the overcrowding problem. .

“The district is currently in the process of acquiring the land for the new high school, which is expected to take approximately 18 months to build,” the district said in a press release.

The new high school is expected to cost $35 million to $45 million.

According to Atlanta school spokesman Keith Bromery, students from six feeder elementary schools are enrolling at Sutton Middle School in greater numbers than in the past. Sutton’s enrollment is likely to continue to increase beyond the school’s current capacity. A memo placed on both the APS and North Atlanta High School Web sites said Sutton’s planned capacity of 1040 students had been exceeded this year with the enrollment of approximately 1052 students.

“Next year, we anticipate the enrollment growing to approximately 1169 students and to 1340 students in the 2011- 2012 school year,” the memo said.

The school district’s 1-cent special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) that pays for school construction projects is due to end in 2012 unless it is renewed by voter referendum. Atlanta’s new Mayor Kasim Reed and some members of Atlanta City Council reportedly have their eyes on that 1-cent in tax revenue to pay for other city functions, such as improving public safety services.

The Buckhead area has experienced student growth as APS has closed schools in other areas of Atlanta because of under-enrollment. “We believe that this (growth in attendance) is the result of the high quality education that students are receiving and parents’ desire to support public schools in their community,” the APS memo stated.

Sutton take in students from Bolton Academy, Morris Brandon, Jackson, Garden Hills, E. Rivers and Sarah Smith elementary schools.  Tthe Buckhead elementary schools, along with Sutton and North Atlanta High Schools, offer the International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Three of the elementary schools expanded recently. Atlanta spent $14 million building an annex at Sarah Smith Elementary. Old and unused school properties also were turned into annexes for two other schools, Brandon and Jackson, at a cost of $12.9 million and $4.3 million..

In 2007, when APS asked Atlanta voters to continue paying the local 1 percent sales tax for school construction, included among projects mentioned was the purchase of “land” for a new school—possibly a middle school–in north Atlanta. But, no money apparently was specifically set aside at the time to build either a new middle or high school in Buckhead .

Buckhead real estate professionals and community leaders, who did not want to be named, said real estate brokers have been checking out several sites in Buckhead. Real estate professionals said the high school, with space for sports fields, parking and other needs, could require at least 15 acres. They indicated there are not too many sites that large available in Buckhead.

However, two areas suggested as potential locations were areas along Northside Parkway toward the Chattahoochee River  or as part of a redevelopment of the area around the present Colonial Homes apartments, off Peachtree Road in South Buckhead and adjacent to the Bobby Jones Golf Course.

The real estate professionals said, however, that they had no firm knowledge of the situation and their suggestions were “pure speculation.” Land costs alone could run from just under $1 million to as much as $3 million an acre, according to people knowledgeable of Buckhead land prices.