By Amy Wenk
Another private school controversy could be brewing in Sandy Springs.
At a June 1 meeting, Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church and School presented an application to expand and revamp the 40-acre campus off Mount Vernon Highway.
No increase in enrollment is proposed. The maximum number of kindergarten through 12th-graders will remain at 1,300, with a cap of 176 for the preschool. As of April 1, the enrollment was 1,236 and 176, respectively.
Holy Innocents’ is looking instead for approval of a master plan to redevelop the campus over 12 to 15 years. The request includes an estimated $60 million to $80 million of improvements spread over three phases.
A major goal is to redesign the heart of the campus by addressing the aging Riley building, which was an elementary school and was built around 1950.
The new master plan consolidates Riley’s six structures into three, two with three stories and one with two stories. The buildings would form a half-circle around a new round carpool lane and provide additional green space and improved campus connectivity.
“If you go to Holy Innocents’ now, like a lot of the church schools, it feels like the buildings were added where there was simply open space available,” said project architect Michael Collins of Collins Cooper Carusi Architects. “There’s not a lot of internal connection.”
The plan, Holy Innocents’ attorney Amy Hillman of Tatum Hillman Hickerson & Powell wrote in a May 5 letter of intent to the city, would create “a better sense of place, connectivity and community for the applicant and its neighbors. There will be no adverse impacts to the neighbors.”
But Laurie and Bill Robbins of the nearby Avalon neighborhood see things differently.
Although the couple presented the only opposition at the June 1 information session, other neighbors share their complaints.
Around 2002, representatives from affected neighborhoods signed a private agreement with Holy Innocents’ that restricted security, lighting and the use of facilities, among other things.
“Unfortunately, the school has not honored that agreement,” said Laurie Robbins, a homeowner in Avalon since June 1987. She said parking, traffic and noise are out of hand, and Holy Innocents’ has been unresponsive.
“It’s not a school or a church,” she said. “It’s a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation. A college campus does not belong in the middle of a residential neighborhood.”
The city cannot enforce private agreements, Community Development Director Nancy Leathers said, but conditions could be drafted to remedy issues like noise. “There are solutions to all these things.”
The first phase of Holy Innocents’ plan is to build a building of 50,000 to 68,000 square feet facing Mount Vernon Highway, Head of School Kirk Duncan said. The three-story structure would form the western edge of the new half-circle and would include a cafeteria, Upper School math and science classrooms, and a reception area.
Fundraising will begin as soon as the economy turns around, Duncan said.
“We are chomping at the bit to get going on this,” he said. “The school needs everything that is described. We need it now. It’s not like we are going to bide our time.”
Later improvements include a 1,000-square-foot chapel at the corner of Mount Vernon and Powers Ferry Road, approximately 12,000 square feet of additions to the sanctuary, and some 10,000 square feet of athletic support space.
Along with the approval of the master plan, Holy Innocents’ is seeking the revision of three use permits for the church, school and day care facilities. Changes are necessary to accommodate the acquisition of the Irene Jones property, slightly more than 2 acres in the southwest portion of the site.
Holy Innocents’ expects to close on the tract this summer, Hillman said.
The property, just east of the Crossroads Primitive Baptist Church cemetery, has two houses. The front structure, with nearly 15,000 square feet in four stories, will be kept as administrative space; the other will be torn down.
Two concurrent variances are sought to exceed the allowable building height by 10 feet and allow the existing cemetery encroachment.
The application will be heard June 25 at a community-developer resolution meeting, then go to the Planning Commission on July 16 and the City Council on Aug. 18.