At left, City Council members John Paulson, Dianne Fries and Chip Collins, left to right, hear residents’ opinions about Gwinnett Tech.

The city of Sandy Springs hopes to lure Gwinnett Technical College by offering two potential sites for a college campus within the city.

Mayor Eva Galambos said the city intended to present its offerings to Gwinnett Tech. The proposal would include two possible locations for a new college campus.

A divided Sandy Springs City Council on Jan. 18 voted to submit a bid on the campus. The council voted 4-3 to approve the measure, with Galambos voting in favor to break the tie. Council members said the proposal could include a controversial North Springs MARTA station site as well as a second site inside the Perimeter.

Gwinnett Tech had asked cities in north Fulton County to suggest possible places to put the new college. The facility is expected to require $40 million to $50 million to build and would bring 10,000 to 12,000 students to the city, Sandy Springs representatives said.

“I felt compelled to come here tonight to ask you to be less concerned with your personal agendas and your desire for political expediency and to stop turning a deaf ear to the voices of the taxpayers for whom you work. Before you pursue this rushed, ill-advised wooing of Gwinnett Tech with my money, you must perform the proper due diligence on this specific project and make that information available to those of us who foot the bills.” Alison Harris

A city-appointed committee studied potential Sandy Springs sites and recommended the city propose the college be built on MARTA-owned property near the North Springs station. During the public meeting Jan. 20, an alternative site – an office building identified as The Pavilion at Lake Hearn – was introduced. Both sites are close to MARTA rail stations.

The committee’s proposal, unveiled in a snow-delayed council meeting Jan. 13, produced widespread controversy among residents.

“I do support the idea of having a technical school, just not at this site,” said resident Michelle Mogilski. “This site is not the right site.”

“The MARTA site is a Fortune 50 site. Let’s not put a school there.” Dick Weber

Galambos and others defended the proposal as a serious bid to win the college competition. “The idea is to come up with something that is financially feasible,” Galambos said. “We’ve got to come up with a winning proposal that will beat what Roswell and Alpharetta put on the table.”

But others saw things differently. Residents quickly organized in opposition and e-mailed their opinions to members of the council. City Councilman John Paulson estimated he received 1,000 e-mails, most of them against the proposal.

When the council met Jan. 18 to vote on the proposal, the council chambers at City Hall were packed by more than 150 people and offered only standing room. At one point, when a speaker asked opponents of the proposal to stand, nearly everyone in the audience rose.

“Do not give away our tax dollars. They will choose Sandy Springs, if they have to pay to come to Sandy Springs. We should move forward with this and not give away the store.” Randy Staton

Opponents argued the North Springs site was too valuable to turn over to a college, would overwhelm neighborhoods in the area with traffic and that the city shouldn’t spend tax money on the plan.

“When this city was formed, you made certain commitments,” resident Bill Cleveland said. “You are taking money away from [other capital] projects in an irrational exuberance and giving it to a project that has no documented benefits.”

Council members split evenly on the proposal, with Paulson, Councilwoman Dianne Fries and Councilman Tibby DeJulio voting for the plan and Councilman Chip Collins and Councilwomen Ashley Jenkins and Karen Meinzen McEnerny against.

“I hate that this council is divided over this,” Fries said. “I hate that the citizens are upset… but I need to vote my conscience. I think this is a real benefit to the city.”

“If we bring this facility to Sandy Springs, we can turn this into a generator of jobs.” Rusty Paul Former Sandy Springs City Councilman

Other council members, however, objected to the site proposed for the school or to a plan that the city contribute $2.5 million, to be matched by $2.5 million from the business community, to finance the project. The city also would plan on about $9.5 million in road improvements.

“We are talking about using $2.5 million as if it were Monopoly money,” McEnerny said.

Collins said he also objected to spending city money on the plan and that his constituents had made it clear to him that they, too, opposed the plan. “To me,” he said. “passing this resolution is tantamount to telling the children, ‘Be quiet. The adults are talking.’”

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.