Dunwoody City Council members praised a plan to swap Dunwoody Senior Baseball fields to the DeKalb schools for Austin Elementary and cash as a “win-win” after they agreed to the exchange during a special meeting Oct. 5.

“We ended up with park land and money,” said Councilmember Doug Thompson. “You just can’t beat that.”

An aerial view of the two new baseball fields to be built at Peachtree Charter Middle School with a view also of the football field and track area. Extra parking spaces are also to be built as seen by the paved spot in the top left corner.

Through the proposed swap, the DeKalb County school board will use the ballfields as the site of a new school building and will pay the city $3.6 million, which it can use to develop new ballfields at Peachtree Charter Middle School, according to the deal set to be voted on by the council next month.

The council met in executive session Oct. 5 for about 20 minutes. When council members emerged from the closed-door meeting, Mayor Denis Shortal announced the city had signed a letter of intent with the school district to do the deal. The school board signed the same letter of intent on Oct. 3.

Thompson said negotiations between the school board and the city have been years in the making and he believes the one being considered now is good for all involved.

“We know Dunwoody Senior Baseball has been tough on us,” he said. “I’m a youth sports guy. I would not have done anything to hurt the program. We’re getting $3.6 million from the [school board] and we can get some nice fields.”

As part of the proposed land swap deal, the school district will pay the city $3.6 million and give eventual control of the current Austin Elementary School property on Roberts Drive to the city. In exchange, the city will give the Dunwoody Senior Baseball fields in Dunwoody Park, just down the road from Austin Elementary, also on Roberts Drive, to the school district to be used for a new 900-seat Austin Elementary School.

Plans for what the city will do with the old Austin Elementary School site have not been made and council members said the community will have say into what goes into the area, including the possibility of a park.

An aerial view of one of the new baseball fields to be built at Peachtree Charter Middle School. A new concession stand, in foreground, will also be constructed.

“The current site of Austin will become a city park someday. What does the city want? What are the needs of that corner? There is a great amount of need for this,” Councilmember John Heneghan said.

The city will use the $3.6 million to build two new baseball fields at Peachtree Middle School to include lighting, a concession stand and 34 additional parking spaces, according to the agreement. The city will also use the money to make capital improvements to the PCMS football field and track area, including irrigation improvements, in exchange for a 25-year agreement for use of the fields for city-sponsored athletics, when not in use by the school.

The roughly two-year timeline for the entire process allows the new baseball fields to be constructed first, so Dunwoody Senior Baseball can make the transition to using them. Construction on the new Austin Elementary would then begin, with plans to open the new school in August 2018.

Shortal stressed that the signing of the letter of intent with the school board on Oct. 5 was not the final action required by the deal. There will be two community meetings at City Hall on Oct. 17 and Oct. 25 at 6 p.m., with a final vote slated to go to the council on Nov. 14.

“We have about six weeks to look at this, to vet this,” he said. “We are the folks you elected and I’ve urged council to be open to public input.”

Dunwoody Senior Baseball supporters have opposed the move to PCMC, saying traffic and other issues would hamper league play. DSB President Jerry Weiner said the league is seeking ways to be supportive of the plan and is searching for options, including the possibility of building two new baseball fields at Brook Run Park.

“DSB recognizes there are some good things for the city and clearly we would love to stay at Dunwoody Park,” he said. “But we’re looking at options, including the 2010 Parks Master Plan that had the fields built at Brook Run Park.”

Councilmember Lynn Deutsch also praised the deal’s guarantee of more parkland for the city. She also said the city was going “above and beyond” in being transparent about the real estate swap, noting that the city of Brookhaven recently entered into a similar park land swap with the school district with no public input.

A rendering of the concession stand at the new Peachtree Charter Middle School fields.

“We are starting month-long process,” she said. “This is not a bad deal. And this just the beginning of the process. We are open to input.”

Councilmember Terry Nall expressed some displeasure with the deal, saying there would be no issues had the county built the new school where the current one is located. Nall said that state Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) had worked out a deal with the prior school superintendent, Michael Thurmond, to do just that. However, no formal agreement was ever made to do so, said DeKalb schools spokesperson Quinn Hudson.

Nall also said the overall deal was a good one.

“Schools make our community and our job is to protect our community. This is a net gain for the city,” he said.

Thompson said he understood that moving DSB moving to new baseball fields after some 40 years at Dunwoody Park will be difficult.

“The new fields will be better, but they will be different,” he said. “We’ve bought ourselves a month. We’ll hear you out.”

Shortal blasted the DeKalb County School District and said he would be “dancing in the streets” when the city is able to take over the schools, adding the school board is “totally inadequate.”

“It is unbelievable to me the school board cannot build decent facilities for our schools,” he said.

The Dunwoody Homeowners Association board voted to support the deal at its Oct. 9 meeting.

The new school is being funded with taxes raised when voters approved a 2011 E-Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.

7 replies on “Deal to swap land for Dunwoody’s Austin Elementary site called ‘win-win’”

  1. This plan is a gross misuse of the public’s land. The land at PCMS represents the last, large plot of land to use for athletic fields and belongs to all citizens via our property taxes. This proposal fixes the field which doesn’t drain correctly (and is a pile of junk) – this aspect is good. But then the plan uses over 50% of the public’s land for baseball fields… for a private organization! Worse yet, is that is pours in asphalt for a road to the concession building, both of which squander what little land we have for a building and a road thereby reducing use for fields. Worse than that is the configuration of the fields in a way that results in the outfields being un-usable for other sports due to not being connected (to have 1 large space) and being far from school thus making it more onerous for PE students to walk to the outfield to use for other activities. And it places the track far, far away from N Ptree Rd so that it remains invisible to public. A better plan is to place track parallel to N Ptree Rd and visible from street with slant in parking on Barclays and N Ptree Rd. This makes the track visible to the community so that they know it exists and accessible to everyone who wants to use them. Many folks will the track if they know it exists. Also, a track near N Ptree Rd is safer than one that is hidden at rear. And it also allows nearby parking (permeable surface not asphalt) so that anyone can zip in, use track, and leave quickly. Then re-configure baseball fields so that home plate is far from school, near Barclay Rd, not near school. This allows their outfield to be used for other activities as it would be close to school for PE students’ use and we can run lacrosse, soccer, etc programs on it like they do at MJCC fields. Having the baseball infields near school doesn’t help for PE use since students likely will not want to play on dirt or be allowed to play on it. Then, make fields more contiguous and use fences that can be easily rolled up/removed so that you could create a super-size surface area for a variety of uses, tournaments, activities. Then place a concession stand near Barclays Rd not near school. This removes use of precious space near the school being used for a concession stand and road to the concession stand. This freed up land can be used for fields instead. Probably make football field artificial like Hammond Park so that it can be used year-round. Doing all of this should be starting point for configuration. But it would still devote 50% of the public space to baseball which is wrong. Maybe put 1 field across the street in Brook Run and 1 field at PCMS with slant in parking on both sides of Barclay. This results in not using too much of pcms for 1 athletic field and also minimizes placing 2 baseball fields at Brook Run so the park isn’t overrun with active use fields rather than passive use which preserves its primary use as a passive park. This allows current/future residents to not have to travel so far for activities for their kids. With increased density at Perimeter area and increased cut-through traffic, it is helpful/needed to have facilities nearby versus expecting all of us to keep using neighboring cities (Doraville, Chamblee, Sandy Springs, Brookhaven) fields constantly. We are a population of 45,000 – we need fields. If we have to spend more city funds for this, so be it. Use some of the emergency funds and replenish it over a few years – this is interest-free. Or borrow at a low cost rate. City council recently approved accelerating debt payments on a new city hall – I believe selecting this option will result in paying an extra $1MM of note payments per year for first 10 years. That option soaks up $10MM of accelerated debt payments – if they select the other repayment option that was presented, this frees up $10MM to use for getting fields right. We maybe need $1MM extra to do above proposals so there will still be ample money left to use to accelerate the city hall debt payments if we choose to do this (I recommended this approach during council meeting since are a young city and need funds for programs not accelerated debt payments) We have to get the fields right since we will be stuck with the configuration for the next 20 to 30 years.

    1. Calling the local baseball, softball, football, etc. programs “private” – and therefore not worthy of support – is the ultimate insult to the 1000’s of people who have worked very hard since the 60’s to provide something our COUNTY would not. The only solution is to come up with a believable way to call the fields “bike lanes”!

  2. Rather than call the proposed baseball fields Brook Run fields (YouTube video), actually put them in Brook Run. This deal will kill DSB. It is totally unrealistic to use top-notch baseball fields routinely for other purposes. Like lacrosse. Show me other successful places in the Atlanta-area where this is done. Dedicated baseball and softball fields are the norm. It is unfortunate that, even with people who profess to support youth sports, nobody really wants to spend resources to do it.

  3. Dedicated baseball, softball, soccer, and lacrosse fields are a great idea except that we have a massive lack of athletic fields for a population of 45,000 in a city with not a low price point for homes/taxes. Until we get enough fields for everyone, we need to make them multi-use. Using the outfield of a baseball field for other activities such as soccer, lacrosse, youth baseball, etc. helps all in the community. It does not impact a baseball player’s ability to field a ball nor hit a ball nor steal a base so it would not be detrimental to baseball players. If this plan goes through, 50% of DHS athletic fields and 66% (not 50%) of PCMS fields will be dedicated baseball. This is ridiculous and an insult to the entire community. Why don’t we just keep Austin where it is, renovate/expand it, buy homes and church around it, keep baseball fields where they are, and with money saved, athletic fields (multi purpose) for DHS and PCMS and an art/music classroom wing for DHS? This gives something to everyone.

    1. Wake up. Everywhere, fields are dedicated to a specific sport. If you want to propose spending the money for artificial turf fields, one field can accommodate football, lacrosse, and soccer. I can tell you have no experience with baseball and softball. Since you did not accept my challenge, I’ll assume your search for “multipurpose” has yielded few results. DHS is not dedicated to baseball. What nonsense. DHS football uses North Dekalb for their games and has an “adequate” practice field. The other sports need support too. But to argue that “baseball” rules is frankly, stupid. OK, now for the really big news: Brook Run is 100+ acres and can meet all of these needs. But, no, it’s passive space. By the way, you don’t like my idea of calling things “bike lanes” to make things happen?

  4. Unsaid, but most important, is that our society needs lots and lots of help (to state it mildly). We are mostly “flying over the cliff” and the prospect of the positives from youth sports cannot be exaggerated. Team sports of all varieties develops and yields lasting benefits. Compare that to the “devices” our kids are addicted to. Obesity is rampant. Disrespect rules in many classrooms. Positive role models are lacking. Unfortunately, when you have so many parents drinking the “global warming” cool aid (as an example), it’s not likely that they will understand what’s real and worthy and push their kids in the right direction. It goes without saying, of course, that our (local) rulers are a part of the problem, not the solution.

  5. No way should we use up 66% of the public’s space (PCMS fields) as dedicated to baseball fields. 50% of the DHS fields are currently dedicated to a baseball field. This is way too much for 1 sport. Baseball has Morgan, Murphy Candler, and 50% of DHS, and proposed to have 66% of PCMS. This is just downright stupid. You obviously are involved in baseball so all you see is everything from a baseball perspective. We need to be able to use the outfields of the baseball fields for other uses. I don’t see that having a nice football/multipurpose field will fulfill all of the needs of the sports in the community. Maybe it will but I doubt it. You will have many requests for youth/teens/MS/HS for boys and girls soccer and lacrosse. Dedicated fields are nice if we have the space. Hammond Park’s artificial turf is used by many sports. I love the idea of dedicated fields but we have nothing in Dunwoody in terms of fields so we need something for everyone. I think it’s cheaper and easier to just keep Austin where it is, keep baseball where it is, expand Austin by buying church and homes nearby, fix PCMS fields for many athletic endeavors, fix DHS field and put artificial turf (that is what they want), then I think we have all the fields we need and they can be dedicated so 1 sport. If past city council didn’t squander the PVC park land, then we wouldn’t be in such extreme dire need of fields. That property was ideal for fields and that’s what we wanted. Instead, Mayor Davis and at least 3 other city council members that sit on today’s council (you need at least 4 council members to move forward on something) approved putting the Wieland homes on PVC park. And then they approved putting in a passive field at Pernoshal Park when we have passive fields around the corner at Brook Run. Had they just done the right thing and put fields in at PVC park and at Pernoshal Park, then I think we would be all set for fields. Then, any improvement to DHS and PCMS fields could be dedicated. But city council blew it for current and future residents for the next 20 or 30 years by squandering the land at pvc park and not configuring the Pernoshal Park properly. The athletic field issue will get extremely worse quickly when State Farm buildings get built and occupied. Getting through that area on your way to Murphy Candler, Blackburn, the Y, Sandy Springs, etc. will become impossible. Cut through traffic on our roads from all the folks that work in State Farm will make our roads worse. Cut through traffic from Gwinnett on days the Braves play in new stadium will make our roads worse.

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