After a year-long study, the Atlanta school board has decided to spend $56.2 million to buy 56 acres on Northside Parkway for a new North Atlanta High School campus at the far northwest corner of Buckhead.
But turning dirt is not just around the corner.
The school board vote Feb. 14 enables the Atlanta Public School System to negotiate exclusively for that property, which has housed an IBM complex. When negotiations are completed, the board will take another vote to finalize the purchase of the site. APS officials indicated they anticipated no problems with the negotiations.
Although many Buckhead parents are pleased that a site for the new high school finally has been selected by Atlanta Public Schools administration and board, some parents object to the site. Jennifer Moyers of Whitewater Creek neighborhood, which is near the new high school site, told school board members attending the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods’ Feb. 10 meeting that her neighbors’ desires were not considered in selecting the site. Her neighbors delivered two petitions to the school administration and board members objecting to the IBM site.
Also, parents of students attending Sutton Middle School remain concerned about when they can hope for some relief from the overcrowding at the school, which will only get worse before the new high school opens.
When the new North Atlanta High opens, the present high school campus at 2875 Northside Drive will be used to provide relief for Sutton Middle School—either as a second middle school, or possibly a school for sixth-grade students, with seventh- and eighth-grade students attending Sutton on Powers Ferry Road near Chastain Park.
The Sutton PTA board is encouraging parents to continue putting pressure on the school board to make some decisions on the overcrowding issues. PTA co-presidents Leigh Darby and Reide Onley are asking parents to attend the APS board meetings and make their voices heard.
Among the points the PTA co-presidents want parents to make are:
APS announced it would build a new high school and develop a strategy for overcrowding at Sutton Middle School on Feb. 3, 2010. Numerous deadlines have passed, and a year later, APS has not secured a site for the new high school.
Having a new high school ready for the start of the 2012-2013 school year is now impossible, so an alternative plan must be developed for the overcrowding at Sutton Middle School and Morris Brandon and E Rivers elementary schools.
The PTA board is asking the APS administration and board to break ground quickly for construction of the new high school; to develop a plan to alleviate the overcrowding at Sutton Middle School and the elementary schools feeding into Sutton while the new high school is being built; and to develop a long term facilities plan for the Elementary, Middle and High School years in the North Atlanta cluster.
Nancy Meister, who represents Buckhead on the school board, said at the BCN meeting “APS Superintendent Beverly Hall has indicated she wants shovels in the dirt before she leaves office June 30.”
Hall has backed a plan to let kids stay together during their middle school years by using Sutton as a “sixth-grade academy” and sending seventh- and eighth-graders to a new middle school at the present high school campus.
Although system officials steadfastly declined to identify sites they were considering for the new high school, a public outcry arose in October when word circulated publicly that school officials were looking at the Paces Apartments complex in Buckhead Village as a potential site for the high school.
Nearby residents said the Paces property, while centrally located, couldn’t accommodate a comprehensive high school campus and complained the school would compound already heavy local traffic. The system dropped that site two months later, and public speculation centered on the IBM site.
The site-selection process became a topic of discussion when Meister and school board member Reuben McDaniel were quizzed by residents and parents of APS students at the BCN meeting. Meister and McDaniel said school administrators identify a site, check it out and then make a recommendation to the board about the site.
Residents wanted to know when they could be heard on the selection of a school’s site.
Board members said the selection of a site selection is not up for public discussion. Once the announcement of the site is made, then there can be public discussion focused around the design phase of the property itself.
“It is not the role of the staff members to bring representatives of the neighborhoods to the table. That is the role of the board members,” Meister and McDaniel said.
BCN president Jim King said, “It sounds like the only recourse would be litigation. That is a large part of the frustration.”