Dunwoody Senior Baseball board members put on their rally caps and asked the Dunwoody Homeowners Association Nov. 13 to pull back its support of the proposed deal between DeKalb schools and the city to swap the league’s fields for Austin Elementary and cash. The City Council is slated to vote on the deal Monday, Nov. 14.
The DHA board voted last month to support the deal in which the DeKalb County school board will use the ballfields in Dunwoody Park as the site of a new Austin Elementary school building and will pay the city $3.6 million, which it can use to develop new ballfields at Peachtree Charter Middle School. The city will also get control of the land where the current school sits.
And despite the final pitch, DHA’s board stuck by its original support of the land swap.
Dunwoody Senior Baseball board members John Crawford and Jimmy Wood tried to sway DHA members by putting forth an argument the league has been proposing for weeks — that the new baseball fields should be built in the back area of Brook Run Park.
Crawford and Wood argued that having the league fields at Peachtree Charter Middle School will harm the league because there will be a lack of parking as well as less maintenance on the fields that will be used by students during school hours. They also said that because Peachtree Charter Middle School gets out at 3:55 p.m.and league play typically starts at 4 p.m., the dueling schedules will make it difficult for the league to continue to succeed.
“It’s he bottom of the ninth,” Crawford said in asking for DHA’s support to move the fields to Brook Run Park. “We understand there’s no alternative and that we got to go. But we have suggested to the city to consider building the fields in the back area of the park.”
Wood said because the fields are to be built on the school’s property, the league would essentially become “guests at our own baseball park.”
Wittenstein pointed out that the league is currently a guest at Dunwoody Park, which is owned by the city.
Peachtree Charter school parents also oppose the land swap deal because they said the construction of two baseball fields on eight acres of the school’s property will disrupt educational opportunities for students.
“We are opposed because we are losing green space,” said Allegra Johnson, chair of the Peachtree Charter Middle School Foundation, the governing body of the school, at the DHA meeting. “The kids are the ones who are being lost in all of this.”
DHA President Robert Wittenstein asked Crawford and Wood if the league would be willing to shut down league play for perhaps several months as the city moves forward with its parks master plan, which includes gathering public input of what to add or not to add to Brook Run Park.
“Would you rather miss a couple of seasons? Because I don’t think [there is support] in delaying the building of Austin Elementary,” he said.
“No, because we will be gone,” Crawford said, implying the league would not survive any kind of delay. He then said he did not believe the city needed to go through a parks master plan and hear from community members in order to decide to build the new baseball fields in Brook Run Park.
“They have to put some kind of athletic fields at Brook Run, because otherwise there are lost fields,” he said. “We are not willing to wait six months. Where was the public input on this [the land swap deal]? This was all done behind closed doors. Why are we all in favor of citizen input except in this particular case?”
DeKalb schools and the City Council negotiated for about nine months in executive session on what to deal about where to build a new Austin Elementary School and state law allows real estate deals to be discussed behind closed doors so there is no opportunity for land owners to up prices when they know a government entity, for example, is interested in purchasing property. State Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) said, however, because this deal was between two government agencies the negotiations could have been discussed publicly.
Stacey Harris, former DHA president, said community input on what goes into Brook Run Park is necessary because by building baseball diamond-shaped fields the city’s “crown jewel” park will have no space for other sports to serve the entire community, such as soccer, lacrosse and even girls sports leagues.
She also questioned delaying the deal to decide where to place the baseball fields that serve mostly middle school and high school boys because doing so would also delay the construction of the new elementary school. A new school to ease overcrowding benefits all of Dunwoody, she said.
“We’re looking at an elementary school that serves homeowners and tax payers of Dunwoody. Dunwoody Senior Baseball will be just fine,” she said.