By John Schaffner

Holy Spirit Preparatory School (HSPS) wants to build a sports facility and alumni house on a 7.9-acre thin sliver of land that stretches along the south side of I-285 between Lake Forrest and Long Island drives, but ran into some opposition at the March 11 meeting of the Sandy Springs Design Review Board.

Although only the first phase in the school’s quest for city approval of its plans for the complex, the Design Review Board voted 4-1 to deny the application after considering it at two meetings. The application had been deferred at the Feb. 26 meeting so that representatives for the school could meet with homeowners adjacent to the presently undeveloped property.

Holy Spirit has some 600 students at two school campuses, 4820 Long Island Drive and 4449-4465 Northside Drive — and has created a comprehensive athletics program offering organized competition in football, basketball, soccer, baseball, track, cross country, tennis, golf, volleyball and swimming. Approximately 95 percent of the upper school students participate in some organized athletics and 50 percent of the lower school and preschool students.

But Holy Spirit lacks adequate field space for the student athletes. The fields at the upper school on Northside Drive are restricted from being lighted for night games.

Until recently, Holy Spirit played its home football games on a field at Life University in Kennesaw. That field is no longer available and HSPS had no place to play home football games for the 2007-2008 season.

Holy Spirit has the opportunity to acquire this undeveloped tract of land, which is relatively near both its lower school and upper school campuses and is currently zoned Community Unit Plan District (CUPc).

On the West side of the property, which fronts Long Island Drive, the school hopes to build a 14,000 square-foot structure it is referring to as an alumni house. It would house a small chapel, administrative offices, a meeting area and reception area. It would be built to look like a single-family house and would have a parking lot with 40 spaces.

On the east side of the property, the school wants to build a regulation-sized soccer/football field with bleacher seating for 500 and a 10,000 square-foot field house with locker rooms, a ticket booth, public restrooms, concession stand and coaches offices. Parking for guests only would be east of the field house and accessible only from Lake Forrest Drive.

In addition, plans for the grounds call for two tennis courts, a small playground and putting greens.

The primary use will be during the day by lower school students, who will be bused from campus to the facility. Holy Spirit does plan to host 8-12 night-time football games on the field in the fall and winter.

The school plans to limit parking at the field to guests only, with all HSPS faculty, students and parents taking a shuttle bus from one of the school’s campuses.

Although the field will be lighted for night play and have a public address system, the school claims it has taken actions to minimize the noise and light impact on surrounding areas.

The school was before the Design Review Board seeking a use permit for the development of the complex and additionally is requesting six concurrent variances, some of which did not fall within the power of the board.

Most of the members of the public questioned the size of the alumni house facility and the amount of parking planned for that facility, which will be directly across Long Island Drive from the Montessori School. They were concerned about the additional traffic and noise that would be generated. There already is a noise problem because it is the only area along I-285 where there are no sound barriers.

Concern about water runoff onto adjacent residential properties and the impact from the field lighting also were voiced. Excess traffic along Lake Forrest Drive also was mentioned as a major concern.

Holy Spirit was represented at the meeting by Dennis J. Webb Jr. of Smith Gambrell, Russell, LLP who said he had met three times in five weeks with neighbors to the property.

The next step will be for the application to go before the city’s Planning Commission.