Don and Marlene Hart, homeowners at 1120 Heards Ferry Road, live next door to Riverwood International Charter School where construction is taking place. They worry that blasting with explosives will damage their residence. (Photo John Ruch)

Construction work on Riverwood International Charter School’s expansion has run into a big stumbling block—2,200 cubic feet of solid rock where a baseball field is planned to go.

Blasting with explosives will clear the rock, but that plan is worrying Heards Ferry Road neighbors who fear cracks in the walls of their multi-million-dollar homes.

“We have put blasting on hold until we can resolve some of the community’s concerns,” said Fulton County Schools spokesperson Susan Hale.  She said “only two homeowners” had contacted the school district with concerns, and “it appears their concerns have been satisfactorily addressed.”

But Marlene and Don Hart, who live at 1120 Heards Ferry, next door to the school, said they are awaiting more information, and believed the school district was considering alternatives to blasting.  “It’s a big concern for us because we’re right next door,” said Marlene Hart. “We certainly don’t want cracks in the walls of our home.”

Winston Jones, who lives at 1055 Heards Ferry, said he’s also concerned. Like the Harts, he said he learned of the plan only via a March 11 letter that said blasting would take place March 21 through May 6, with no other details. The letter also requested the homeowners allow a consultant to do a “pre-blast survey” of the inside and outside of their houses.

“Blasting—it sounds like a scary word, but it’s a very small detonation…You’d barely notice it,” Hale said.

Hale said she speaks from experience, as controlled blasting once took place next door to Fulton Schools’ former headquarters in East Point. That “felt like a very small tremor…A truck driving by is louder,” she said. “There is no shooting rock or clouds of dust like you see in the movies.”

Hale said the school district would use the same firm, Controlled Blasting, Inc., that recently did similar blasting at the City Springs construction site. But she acknowledged that the “pre-blast survey” is for insurance purposes because explosion vibrations can crack walls.

Jones said he knows such blasting is fairly common on construction sites and that he heard similar assurances from another school official. “But it’s not across the street from his house,” Jones said.

Riverwood is undergoing a major expansion on the former site of Heards Ferry Elementary School, which recently moved to a new building on Powers Ferry Road. The expansion involves lowering the site by 23 feet, Hale said. Surveyors were surprised to find the huge mass of rock beneath the old school’s foundations, she said.

Hale could not say what the additional cost of removing the rock might be. But, she said, blasting is cheaper, faster and quieter than digging the rock out with earth movers. Blasting would take place every three days for about five weeks and possibly less, she said.

But Jones and the Harts said that information was not in the notice mailed by the school district. Jones said he received the letter only a few days before the scheduled blasting. Jones and the Harts also did not want to participate in the “pre-blast survey” due to privacy and security concerns with the storage of photos and videos of their home interiors.

“It is not something we are required to offer, but instead something we want to do in order to be a good neighbor and help our homeowners feel confident in the construction process,” Hale said of the inspections, to be done by contractor Vibra-Tech.

“This is to protect them, not to protect us,” Marlene Hart said of the insurance inspections.

“I think they should detail, and let the whole neighborhood know, what they’re going to do, when they’re going to do it, and how they’re going to do it,” said Hart.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.