Brookhaven’s Cross Keys High School is going to get a brand new building.

The DeKalb County Board of Education voted Dec. 5 to spend $561 million of Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, with nearly $85 million dedicated to building a new Cross Keys High School, currently at 1626 North Druid Hills Road. The building could be built at the former Briarcliff High School site on North Druid Hills Road and west of I-85.

The current Cross Keys High School building. (Special)

The vote was 6-1 with board member Stan Jester of Dunwoody voting against the plan. Jester had asked to have the vote delayed.

“From a Cross Keys perspective, it is a bittersweet outcome that assures the disassembly of a cluster that is a mirror of its beautiful Buford Highway community,” said Kim Gocke, president of the Cross Keys Foundation. “But there can be no doubt that this will lead to a brighter future for more of our Buford Highway area kids across Brookhaven, Chamblee and Doraville.”

The new Cross Keys High School will have room for 2,500 students, while the current high school building will be renovated into a new middle school at a cost of $9.5 million and will hold 1,500 students, according to DeKalb schools. No timeline has been established.

Many people have raised concerns about building a new school at the former Briarcliff High School site due to heavy traffic in the area. The school district is also searching for other sites, not yet named, as open land becomes scarcer in north DeKalb County. Gocke said he has confidence in the school board to ease anxiety.

“Many community members express valid concerns about the capacity of North Druid Hills Road and the limited access points to the old Briarcliff High School site. I trust the district to make a proper assessment of their options, whatever site is chosen,” he said.

Voters overwhelming approved a referendum on May 24 for $561 million to be raised by extending the 1 cent E-SPLOST for five years. The board voted to spend $291 million on new facilities and school additions to alleviate overcrowding, with $260 million coming from E-SPLOST revenue and $31 million coming from Georgia Department of Education capital outlay reimbursements. School officials have said there will be a shortage of 5,600 seats at secondary schools in Region 1 between now and 2022. Region 1 includes the Cross Keys Cluster in Brookhaven and the Dunwoody Cluster.

“This blueprint will enable the DeKalb County School District to provide our students with first-class facilities and services that they deserve,” Superintendent Stephen Green said in a statement. “But our work is far from finished. We will engage the community every step of the way as these projects move forward. Our goal is to build trust, and complete quality projects, together.”

The Cross Keys cluster, which includes Cross Keys High School, Sequoyah Middle School and Woodward, Montclair, Dresden and Cary Reynolds elementary schools, has been overcrowded for years. The cluster has a capacity for 5,700 students, but more than 7,500 were enrolled last year, according to school officials.

In March, the DeKalb County School District approved a redistricting plan for the Cross Keys cluster to address the overcrowding by moving 1,700 students in these schools to other North DeKalb schools.
The Cross Keys cluster is also noted for many students who live along Buford Highway and do not speak English as their first language.

“I believe the Board of Education sent a message to all DeKalb stakeholders that the old politics of ‘North versus South’ or “black versus white” will no longer be allowed to dominate their governing process,” Gocke said. “This is particularly good news for what I call the ‘gray’ children of immigrants and refugees in Cross Keys and Clarkston areas.

The Dec. 5 also moved forward a deal with the city of Brookhaven to build a new $30 million John Robert Lewis Elementary School where Skyland Park currently is located. The school is named for civil rights icon and U.S. Representative John Lewis (D-Atlanta).

With a projected 2017 enrollment of 394 students, John Robert Lewis Elementary School will play a key role in relieving overcrowding in the Cross Keys cluster by receiving students from Montclair Elementary School, according to school officials.
In May, the school board agreed to purchase Skyland Park for $4.7 million for the new elementary school. The school district also is buying — from the state — the Skyland building, where the State Vital Records Office is located, for $2.8 million.

As part of the agreement, DeKalb County BOE will then transfer the land the vital records office building is located on — about 4 acres — to the city for the renovation and construction of a new Skyland Park, which is expected to open next year.

E-SPLOST funds will also be used to build a new elementary school for Cross Keys North students. The school district plans to spend $30 million for the construction of the school, but will also have to locate and purchase land for the site which is expected to be in the Doraville area.

Dyana Bagby

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