Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst sat in the driver’s seat of an excavator on the morning of July 24 to take a ceremonial swing at the former Georgia Department of Public Health Vital Records Office building. The building, at 2600 Skyland Drive, is set to be demolished to make way for a new $3.05 million city park slated to open in January.

Just a top corner of the building — where the “2600” for its address was located — came down after a few swats of the construction equipment’s bucket during the ceremonial event that began the process of constructing a new 4-acre Skyland Park.

An earthmover is poised to start demolition of the former vital records building while a large illustration of the future Skyland Park sits out front at a July 24 ceremony. (Dyana Bagby)

The new park, designed by consultant GreenbergFarrow as part of the city’s comprehensive parks plan, will include two sand volleyball parks, two dog parks and an open field.

Ernst said that shortly after he took office in 2016, the DeKalb County School District approached the city about a “tricky proposal” to sell and swap land.

“They needed new land for a new school to help with the overcrowding occurring on the Buford Highway corridor and we had park plans to build brand new parks,” he said.

The two entities agreed to come together and accomplish both at same time, he said.

As part of the land deal, the DeKalb school system purchased the 10-acre Skyland Park site from the city for $4.7 million for its new John Lewis Elementary School, which has recently drawn some community traffic concerns. DeKalb Schools also purchased the vital records building from the state for $2.8 million and then deeded that 4-acre property over to the city for a new Skyland Park.

The DeKalb Board of Education recently awarded the contract to build the $22 million, 900-seat John Lewis Elementary School to Barton Malow.

Early construction of the new school started at the end of July. The school is expected to be finished by August 2019 and open for the 2019-2020 school year, according to a spokesperson.

“We at the Board of Education have recognized that the Cross Keys cluster has been under-invested and we are going to make amends to address that,” District 2 school board member Marshall Orson said at the July 24 event. District 2 includes Brookhaven.

An overhead illustration of the new Skyland Park features two sand volleyball courts. (Dyana Bagby)

Orson said the deal between the city and DeKalb Schools “best exemplifies” the partnerships the current school board and Superintendent Stephen Green are trying to accomplish.

“This is the model we think we need to be successful,” Orson said.
Orson also said that DeKalb Schools will be spending $150 million over the next few years specifically in the Cross Keys cluster — to build the new

John Lewis Elementary School in Brookhaven, to build another elementary school in Doraville, to renovate the current Cross Keys High School into a middle school and to construct a new Cross Keys High School.

Councilmember John Park, whose district includes Skyland Park, also praised the city’s relationship with the school system and said the two entities are listening to residents living around the new school and will be mitigating traffic by having buses use Dresden Drive. An underground storm water retention pond for the park will also be located on the school property.

Amenities of the new Skyland Park will include two state-of-the-art shade structures that look like picnic areas and will be covered with solar panels.

The solar panels will provide power to allow visitors to charge their electronic devices at the park. The city is working with Georgia Power Co. to put in a charging station for electric cars at the park.

The main features of the park include the two sand volleyball courts, two picnic shelters, a new restroom facility, an open space field, a large and small dog park and a natural playground area under a canopy of trees in the northeast corner of the park.

Duluth-based Multiplex, the company doing the demolition and new Skyland Park construction, must remove asbestos materials before razing the entire building. New construction is expected to begin in August.

The vital records office building was built in 1956, according to a spokesperson at the state Department of Public Health. At one time it was an elementary school.

Dyana Bagby

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