By Gerhard Schneibel

Blasting rock from the Ison Road school site is safe and the best option to move forward with construction of the elementary school there, according to representatives of construction companies contracting with the Fulton County Schools.

The construction site is within 1½ miles of one gas pipeline and within two miles of another. The general contractor is Vinings-based Evergreen Construction, and the school is scheduled to open in June and welcome its first pupils in August. But the rock was discovered as a construction obstacle Sept. 2.

Stormwater runoff and sewer pipes leading away from the building will need to be connected to one of three manholes in the area, only one of which is on Fulton County property, Chip Brown of Conyers-based Breedlove Land Planning said during a Sept. 25 community meeting at Sandy Springs City Hall.

“We analyze the existing tie points,” he said of the company’s decision to connect the pipes to the manhole, which isn’t in any easements or stream buffers.

To make that connection, the pipes will have to cross a slope too steep for conventional equipment to be effective. That leaves as an option blasting the rock bit by bit before removing it, Brown said.

The blasting will take place between noon and 1 p.m. for a period of about two weeks.

What contractors have seen in “the trenches here and in the holes that we’ve dug” is that the rock on the site is cracked and “partially weathered” instead of “one solid vein of rock,” Brown said. “It’s not that one big piece where, when you blast, it ripples all the way through.”

Other options also would require blasting, Brown said.

“What we tried to do was weave the sewer and storm water down the slope to save as many trees as possible,” he said. “This path has already been cleared of trees. If we already cleared a path, why go in and clear out another 40-foot swath and have to use the same methods later on?”

Before the city of Sandy Springs grants a blasting permit, building owners within 1,000 feet of where the blasting charges are set off will be given the opportunity to have their homes surveyed for insurance purposes. Birmingham, Ala.-based Sauls Seismic was hired to conduct pre-blast surveys.

The 30 buildings within that radius are along Ison Road, Grogan’s Ferry Road, Northridge Drive, Woodcliff Drive and Windridge Drive.

Neighbors’ primary concern is the risk of property damage from the blasting. Blake Dettwiler, Sandy Springs’ assistant director of land development, said there are “multiple tiers of responsibility,” but the “blasting contractor would be the first level of responsibility.” A blasting contractor has not yet been selected, according to Will Goodwin, project manager for Evergreen Construction.

City staff will be on site during each blast, Dettwiler said.

John Smith of Parsons Engineering said his company would make the insurance information of all involved contractors available to citizens through city of Sandy Springs open-records requests but that he would not provide neighbors with copies of the information or post it online.

The blasting will consist of a “small number of charges,” he said. “It’ll be like a pop, pop, pop, pop. They’re going to blast from the bottom up on the hill, and as they blast, they’ll stop to remove that portion of the material.”

Neighbors asked for the radius of the survey to be expanded for the sake of safety, but 1,000 feet is state and city law, according to the contractors.

Dist. 2 Councilwoman Dianne Fries, in whose district the construction site sits, introduced a compromise under which all properties that at least partially fall within the 1,000-foot radius will be included in the survey instead of only structures.

Neighbors also said they were guaranteed that no blasting would take place, but Brown denied that claim.

“When you’re dealing with rock, the only way to completely know what’s down there is to uncover the whole site, and that’s just not an option,” he said. “It is not the normal standard of care that any school system developer goes through.”

Jim Ramseur, who lives in the Grogan’s Bluff subdivision near the site and serves on the city’s Citizens Advisory Committee, has long been an outspoken critic of the Ison Road school project.

Contractors’ “failure to have known that blasting was there and necessary all along is of concern to the neighborhood,” he said. “They are not prepared to post a bond. They have not provided us with the legal liability chain and what as homeowners can we do in the event of damage and how that will be handled.”

Staff from the city of Sandy Springs and Fulton County Schools facilitated the meeting.

City Director of Community Development Nancy Leathers told neighbors, “From this point forward, we’ll be moving forward and processing that application.”