The Sandy Springs Planning Commission Chairman lashed out at Fulton County Schools officials on Wednesday over plans to replace Heards Ferry Elementary School.
Chairman Lee Duncan didn’t hold back as he stood in a crowd of residents gathered at Riverwood International Charter School for a public input meeting. He complained to Deputy Superintendent of Operations Patrick Burke that the Fulton County Board of Education had “completely stonewalled” the Planning Commission. Duncan said the Planning Commission wanted to have more input in the process of replacing the school.
Burke tried to cut Duncan off so the input meeting could resume. Duncan objected.
“I’m going to finish and, until hell freezes over, you’re going stand there and listen to me,” Duncan said.
Fulton County Schools officials invited the public to air their concerns within small discussion groups. The smaller groups tend to reduce the amount of yelling that occurs at public meetings on controversial topics.
Before the group discussions could begin, residents peppered Burke with questions about where the new elementary school could be located. Burke said because real estate transactions are exempt from the state’s open meetings law, he could not discuss what sites the county is considering for the elementary school.
“Under Georgia law, these are things that are typically discussed in closed session,” Burke said. “Why? Because as taxpayers, if you look around the metro region, these things drive up price.”
Fulton County Schools officials have looked at more than 20 sites, according to information contained in Burke’s presentation. Surveyor visits to properties in the city have fueled speculation among residents.
The Heards Ferry Elementary School project was on a list of projects to be funded by the Special Purpose Local Option sales tax. Voters in 2011 approved renewing the SPLOST. In addition to replacing the elementary, Fulton County Schools also intends to add 26 classrooms to Riverwood International Charter School to address overcrowding.
The current timeline calls for elementary school construction to begin in 2015 and Riverwood school construction to begin in 2017.
Both projects are intertwined because the schools share the same campus and are landlocked by expensive Sandy Springs real estate along Heards Ferry Road. Expanding the high school and replacing the elementary creates a host of planning challenges, including additional traffic and a need for more parking.
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