The city of Brookhaven  is ready to break ground on a new Skyland Park Feb. 1, but a group of residents wants to have more say on the park’s look now that a new DeKalb County school is being built on the park’s original site.

Time is tight, though, as the city’s parks consultants at GreenbergFarrow are finishing up construction documents that soon will be released as part of a request for proposal for the project, said Brian Borden, Brookhaven’s director of Parks and Recreation.

The city’s original design for Skyland Park on 10.6 acres included tennis courts that have been removed to make room for the new school. Click to enlarge. (GreenbergFarrow)

“The permitting and review phases of this project could take anywhere from one to two months to complete. Our goal is to have everything ready to submit for council approval by the end of the year,” Borden said.

In a surprise deal last May, city officials sold Skyland Park to the DeKalb Board of Education for $4.7 million. The school system will use its property for the new John Robert Lewis Elementary School.

As part of the deal, the DeKalb school system also purchased the State Vital Records Office, which was located next to the Skyland Park site and will turn that property over to the city. The building’s site is where the new, smaller Skyland Park will be built.

Of the $4.7 million being paid to the city, $2.3 million will be used to demolish the building and build a new, smaller park featuring dog parks, a multi-use field and a playground, according to draft plans drawn up by GreenbergFarrow. Estimated cost to build the new Skyland Park is right at $2.3 million, according to the city.

Now some residents in the area say there should be new community discussions about what will go into the park.

“We understand there were meetings in the past, but the new school opens up the conversation. It would be great to add transparency to this project that wasn’t transparent with the school,” resident Myron Jensen told council members at the Aug. 9 meeting. Real estate deals are decided in executive sessions and behind closed doors by city governments until a public vote must be made.

Because the original plans for Skyland Park were in place before the school was slated to be built on the property, Jensen said, neighbors are asking the council to reopen discussion on the park’s layout.

“We are not going to have a lot of say in the construction of the school. One thing we thought of is the new plan for Skyland Park — we thought we could leverage the City Council” to listen, Jensen said.

Community input is being accepted, but the city is ready to begin digging dirt for the new park.

Skyland Park was originally a 10.6 acre plot, and last year community meetings were held to collect ideas on what the park should look like and what kind of amenities it should include. As part of the original plan, tennis courts were included in the park’s layout.

The current plans for the new Skyland Park on 4.6 acres and below the John Robert Lewis Elementary School location. Click to enlarge.

The new park now will be built on the 4.6-acre site that had included the Vital Records building.

“The consultants have been able to incorporate what was in the original plan [of 10.6 acres] into this smaller site plan [of 4.6 acres], minus the tennis courts,” Borden said. “It is also important to note that during our public stakeholder meetings that were held last fall, which the original plan resulted from, tennis was not a top priority of those that attended the meetings.”
Borden said the school system and state are scheduled to close the sale of the Vital Records building city on Jan. 30. “Thus the target [construction] start date of Feb. 1,” he said.

“The Skyland Park project is scheduled to take 180 days – or six months — to complete, and DeKalb County Schools cannot begin construction on their new school until the new park has been completed and opened to the public,” he said.

“At this time, there are no additional stakeholder meetings planned. However, as always, citizens are welcome to contact their council representative at any time,” Borden said.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.