By Jason Massad
Chamblee Charter High School now has the funds to rebuild, after the DeKalb County Board of Education agreed to use federal funding to replace the aging facility.
The board unanimously voted to accept $58 million in federal bonds to be sold and added to the more than $11 million Chamblee High already has banked from an ongoing Special Local Option Sales Tax.
DeKalb school board member Jim Redovian, who represents the Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Chamblee areas, said his persistence – as well as that of parents, teachers and administrators – in promoting the aging high school as one of the top building priorities in the district helped lead the board to allocate the money from the federal program.
“It happened in unanimous fashion, which is kind of amazing,” Redovian said. “I think we just kept hammering at them and hammering at them that this should be taken care of.”
The move to fund the school comes in the middle of an effort to close, reconsolidate and redraw attendance lines for elementary, middle and high schools across the state’s third largest school district. The first meeting hosted by the district to prompt public input on what could be a sweeping redistricting plan was discussed at Chamblee High School Nov. 9. The event drew more than 350 parents, students and teachers.
That the school had just received the money to rebuild wasn’t lost on anyone. The building suffers from mold problems, rat infestations and is chronically crowded in the hallways, say teachers.
Lisa Guyton, who teaches art to freshman through seniors at Chamblee High School, said a new facility would be welcome.
“We’re (one) of the top-performing high schools in the county,” she said. “Why are we in this bankrupt building?”
Problems with the facilities at the high school are acute, say both parents and teachers. The football team practices on the baseball diamond, Guyton said.
Parents have complained that girls’ softball practices are held off-campus because of the lack of space at the school, located at 3688 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road.
Questions remain on how the high school’s building will be reconstructed and what happens to students attending the school in the interim. School district officials did not respond to a request for follow-up questions on the rebuilding plan.
U.S. history teacher Steve Rubino said that because the bonds accepted by the school board are part of a federal program to help large school districts improve facilities, a new Chamblee High School would need to be completed in the next several years.
“They have to build here, I’m guessing, and they have to do it right away,” said Rubino, who teaches juniors and seniors.
Chamblee Charter High School serves a mix of resident students from the Brookhaven and Chamblee areas, as well as transfer students and high-performing students from across the district who attend the school’s high-achiever magnet program.
The aging, high-performing school was established in 1917 and has been rebuilt before.
The chronic nature of the facility’s problems led the school to bank more than an $11-million chunk of an ongoing local option sales tax instead of spending the money on repairs. The rationale: the sales tax revenue wouldn’t have provided enough to renovate a facility that needed to be replaced.
Marcus Turk, the district’s top financial officer, said that the $58 million added to the more than $11 million of the sales tax would be enough to completely rebuild the school.
The financing comes from a federal bond program to make capital improvements at schools. The financing can be either no-interest or low-interest, Turk said. Based on the rate the bonds are sold for, which is tied to the district’s financial health, an interest rate is established.
Once the school district sells the bonds, the district will be reimbursed by the federal government for the interest owed on the bonds – up to a certain point – or a tax credit could be issued to investors, Turk said.