By Gerhard Schneibel
gerhard@reporternewspapers.net

The DeKalb County Commission on Jan. 27 will consider a proposed expansion of St. Martin’s Episcopal School that officials of the Brookhaven school say is vital but that concerns the neighboring Oglethorpe Estates Civic Association.

Representatives from both organizations say they are optimistic the expansion can be carried out to everybody’s satisfaction. The school isn’t planning to expand its student body of 580 but merely to provide more space for the children from preschool through eighth grade.

The school has expanded its offerings in recent years to include programs such as drama, band and a newspaper. Students can now take two foreign languages at a time, increasing the need for language lab space, and the science labs and cafeteria have become cramped.

Because of the increased programming, ever more students are staying at the school through the eighth grade before moving into high schools such as the nearby Marist School.

St. Martin’s wants to build a two-story middle school building with a 16,500-square-foot footprint and as much as 40,000 square feet of space.

The plan passed the DeKalb Planning Commission on Jan. 6 contingent on the school signing a contract that satisfies the neighbors from the Oglethorpe Estates Civic Association.

Don Meyer, who lives nearby on Lanier Drive, said the contract with the school should guarantee construction is carried out in an orderly way. He wants to make sure any damage to the speed bumps on Lanier Drive will be fixed after construction, that landscaping will be done and that a traffic “pork chop” is installed at one of the school’s driveways so that outbound cars can’t turn left onto Lanier Drive.

If the school doesn’t sign the contract, neighbors should actively oppose the expansion, he said. “But that’s the negative scenario. I’m optimistic that we will reach an agreement.”

The application for a special-use permit also seeks permission to expand St. Martin in the Fields Episcopal Church, a separate entity, by 5,700 square feet.

Stephanie November, the director of advancement for the school, said the church wants “to be zoned in case they do a future expansion, but they are not in a capital campaign.”

The school is working privately with key donors before launching its capital campaign in September and hopes to break ground on the $10 million project in May 2010, November said.

The school will celebrate its 50th anniversary next school year.

“The 2009-2010 school year will be a very exciting time,” she said. “We think that will be an ideal time for a capital campaign.”

Linda Taylor, the president of the Oglethorpe Estates Civic Association, said one of her main concerns is the “effects of the construction process itself on our neighborhood.”

“We want to do everything we can to minimize the impact of that,” she said. “We’ve been really careful about preserving the ambience of our neighborhood. We and St. Martin’s are trying to work together to make that happen.”

Taylor also said many families in the neighborhood send their children to St. Martin’s and attend church there.

“I think there are certain people that have one view, and other people with another view,” she said. “We want it to be something that’s in keeping with the neighborhood.”

Christina Mimms, the director of communications at the school, said St. Martin’s has tried to be forward-thinking about traffic. The school encouraged parents who live in Dunwoody to organize a charter bus system to take their children to school and back.

“Hopefully, other parents will take it upon themselves to do the same,” she said.

About 45 to 50 students from 25 families walk to school, she said.

“Part of the project and part of our plans are to add more green space and do more landscaping and be more pedestrian-friendly. So that will be a benefit for our neighbors as well,” Mimms said. “We’re doing a lot in the space we have, but we’d like to make that space a bit more comfortable.”