By John Schaffner
Atlanta Public Schools may have announced Feb. 3 plans to build a new high school in Buckhead by 2013, but no one is talking about where it might be located.
Those who may have inside information on sites being considered say they “don’t want to jeopardize negotiations.”
New Dist. 4 Atlanta Public Schools Board Member Nancy Meister, who represents Buckhead, sees the planned opening of a second middle school at the present North Atlanta High campus and construction of a new high school “very exciting developments” during her first few weeks on the APS board.
A growing issue of overcrowding at Sutton Middle School brought about decisions to convert North Atlanta High to a second middle school and to build a new state-of-the-art high school in Buckhead.
Although Meister, a real estate agent with Beacham and Company, said she could not talk about potential sites for the new high school, she did say she felt “everybody will be happy with it.” The new high school is supposed to open in 2013.
Next fall, eight portable classrooms will be added to the Sutton campus as a temporary solution to the overcrowding.
According to Atlanta school spokesman Keith Bromery, students from Sutton’s six feeder elementary schools are enrolling in greater numbers than in the past. Sutton’s enrollment is expected to increase well beyond the school’s current capacity within the next several years.
A memo placed on both the APS and North Atlanta High Web sites said Sutton’s planned capacity of 1,040 students had been exceeded this year with the enrollment of approximately 1,052 students. “Next year, we anticipate the enrollment growing to approximately 1,169 students and to 1,340 students in the 2011- 2012 school year,” Bromery said.
“The district is currently in the process of acquiring the land for the new high school, which is expected to take approximately 18 months to build,” a press release issued by Bromery said. He said sites under consideration could not be identified because “that could adversely affect negotiations.”
The new high school is expected to cost $35 million to $45 million, although it was unclear whether that figure included land costs.
The school district’s 1-cent special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) to pay for school construction projects is due to end in 2012, unless it is renewed by voter referendum. Atlanta’s new Mayor Kasim Reed and some members of Atlanta City Council reportedly have their eyes on that 1-cent in tax revenue to pay for other city functions, such as improving public safety services.
The Buckhead area has experienced student growth as the public school system has closed schools in other areas of Atlanta because of under-enrollment. “We believe that this (growth in attendance) is the result of the high quality education that students are receiving and parents’ desire to support public schools in their community,” said an APS memo that was placed on its Web site.
Buckhead Coalition President Sam Massell, whose group has been financially supportive of several schools in Buckhead, agreed the growth in attendance represents “a move back to public schools, which is real healthy.”
Sutton’s attendance zone takes in Bolton Academy, Morris Brandon, Jackson, Garden Hills, E. Rivers and Sarah Smith elementary schools. The Buckhead elementary schools, along with Sutton and North Atlanta High Schools, offer the International Baccalaureate curriculum for grades K-12.
Three of the elementary schools expanded recently. Atlanta spent $14 million building an annex for Sarah Smith Elementary. Old and unused school properties also were turned into annexes for two others, Brandon and Jackson, at a cost of $12.9 million and $4.3 million..
In 2007, when APS asked Atlanta voters to continue paying the local 1 percent sales tax for school construction, included among projects mentioned was the purchase of “land” for a new school—possibly a middle school–in north Atlanta. But, no money apparently was specifically set aside at the time to build either a new middle or high school in Buckhead .
Buckhead real estate professionals and community leaders, who did not want to be identified by name, said real estate brokers have been checking out several potential school sites in Buckhead. They indicated the high school, with space for sports fields, parking and other needs, would require from 15 acres up to 25 acres. People familiar with land prices in the area said property could cost from $1 millon to $3 million an acre.
However, Buckhead real estate professionals and community leaders speculated that two areas could provide potential school sites. One would be along Northside Parkway toward the Chattahoochee River, and the other would be part of a redevelopment of the area around the present Colonial Homes apartments, off Peachtree Road in South Buckhead and adjacent to the Bobby Jones Golf Course.