By Jody Steinberg

Crumbling walls. HVAC systems spilling from the ceiling. Broken toilets. Flooded bathrooms. Antiquated electrical systems.

Cross Keys High School in Brookhaven is one of the most decrepit buildings in the DeKalb County School System. It is long overdue for renovation, but a series of unfortunate events has delayed each scheduled improvement. So it seemed fitting that a fallen tree would knock out the power at Cross Keys, causing a little-publicized community meeting to be uprooted to Ashford Park Elementary School at the 11th hour Feb. 11.

About 35 teachers, parents, students and others joined eight school system administrators at the meeting to hear how Cross Keys will become the home of DeKalb High School of Technology North (HSTN) this summer. With fewer than 800 students and capacity for 1,400, Cross Keys has the space for the tech programs but not the facilities.

A $16.9 million renovation and consolidation, originally scheduled for completion this summer, finally is set to begin.

“We are behind schedule,” said Pat Pope, the school system’s chief operations officer. The first architect quit, the job had to be rebid, and new rules slowed the process.

“We anticipate issuing the bid this month and having contractor approval at the April Board of Education meeting,” Pope said.

The project will be done by December 2010, she added.

Although the meeting was called to discuss the renovation, no plans were shown, and the specifications were not discussed.

“I still want to see the plan,” said Cross Keys teacher Laina Valentine, who led a design team that spent months compiling requests, photos and feedback for Pope. “We worked so hard.”

Pope said, “We heard you loud and clear and think you will be pleased.”

She limited her comments to general terms, inviting input and promising details in meetings with system architect Andreas Peeples.

“We’ve seen plans for the technology addition, but we have not seen plans for the Cross Keys renovation,” said Cmdr. Thomas Moody, who heads the Junior ROTC program. “Will we really have an opportunity to have input?”

The original plan, which included a freestanding addition for HSTN, has changed: One wing of the school will be doubled to create oversized classrooms for the career-training programs, said social studies teacher Jeff Bragg, who also represents the Organization of DeKalb Educators. The change means less space for both programs: HSTN will shrink from 15,000 to 9,000 square feet, and Cross Keys teachers will no longer have their own classrooms — they will have to “float.”

Bragg was not allowed to purchase a bid packet so he could preview the new plan.

Although HSTN must vacate its Dunwoody building by June so Georgia Perimeter College can move in, the automotive program — the one Cross Keys students most want, Bragg said — will remain there for now.

Most HSTN students spend half the day at their home schools and half in their technical programs. Of the 78 full-time students at HSTN, 20 plan to attend Cross Keys.

Concerned that the merger will rob HSTN of its identity, construction instructor Calvin Gray wanted assurances that the technology program will have administrative representation and suggested that the merged school be renamed to reflect the technology addition.

Other HSTN teachers expressed concerns about whether the transitional classrooms will meet industry standards, which they will.

Board of Education members Don McChes­ney and Paul Womack appeared briefly before heading to a budget meeting with DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis. McChesney expressed confidence that Cross Keys Principal LaShawn McMillan and Pope will make a smooth transition.

But Shelly Barnett, who brought daughter Jordan, a junior at Cross Keys, said of the renovation: “I’ll believe it when I see it.”