By Michael Jacobs
michaeljacobs@reporternewspapers.net

A project to expand the available parking at Montgomery Elementary School by two-thirds appears set to take place this summer after the school’s neighbors raised no strong objections to the revised plans at a community meeting April 28.

The meeting in the cafeteria of the school on Ashford-Dunwoody Road near Murphey Candler Park was the second chance for the community to comment on the plans, and the general feeling among the 20 attendees was that DeKalb County school officials did a good job of making changes in response to the feedback at the first meeting.

“It’s much better, and it’s pretty clear that DeKalb County schools wanted to work with the community,” said Andrea von Biberstein, who walks her kindergartner to school each day from Brenton Way.

The latest plans call for adding 41 regular parking spaces and four handicap spaces to the existing 68 spaces at the school, for a total of 113. The new spaces would largely be constructed in two areas: an extension to the existing tree-screened parking lot on the southwest corner of the school site near Brenton Drive; and a new lot around the gym off Chippewa Court in the northeast corner.

Sidewalks would be built to connect the lots to the main school building. The sidewalks from the front lot near Brenton Drive would include handrails because of a steep uphill grade.

The new parking setup would change the traffic flow. Buses would drop off and pick up students at the back lot by the gym, and parents driving their children would have a clear path to and from the front door reducing the backup onto busy Ashford-Dunwoody Road in the morning and afternoon.

Principal Esther Silvers said her staff needs more parking because the school has grown since its merger with Nancy Creek Elementary. Joseph Fitzgerald, who presented the revamped plans at the April 28 meeting on behalf of the county school administration, said the provision of more spaces on campus for special events also was a major motivation.

To that end, the plans now include a gravel driveway from the expanded front parking lot to the school’s fields below. People will be able to use the grass as overflow parking.

The biggest change from the initial plans is the location of a 5,000-square-foot-plus detention pond. Originally, that pond would have replaced a grove of mature trees screening the school property from Brenton Drive. Now the pond is slated for the field below, forcing a soccer field to move.

Instead of dozens of tees being destroyed, only one would come down to make room for the detention pond. State law requires the creation of the pond because the project would add more than 5,000 square feet of pavement, but the pond wouldn’t have to be just a pool of water. The community could turn it into a garden of some kind.

Neighbors still have concerns about the plans, particularly the loss of 18 mature pine trees for parking spaces. Three hardwoods would be planted to compensate for the trees.

“I never like to see any trees cut down,” von Biberstein said. “I do appreciate the willingness for the school to hear the community’s concerns and respond.”

While appreciating the improvement in the plans, neighbor Jeff Turnage said the construction planners underestimated the value of those pine trees. More important, he criticized the planning process, saying the project might have taken place without any community input if a neighbor hadn’t noticed some surveying work months ago and asked questions.

“We’re talking about half a million dollars being spent on this project that nobody really had any control over,” he said.

The county initiated the SPLOST-funded project at the request of Silvers’ predecessor. Because it was a local request, the plans advanced on the assumption that the community wanted the parking expansion.

Fitzgerald said the contractor jumped the gun in submitting the initial plans for permits.

Although no formal vote was taken at the meeting April 28, the lack of a negative response gave school officials confidence to move forward. They said they want to break ground on the monthlong project June 1.