The DeKalb Board of Education approved building the new Cross Keys High School at the former Briarcliff High School site on North Druid Hills Road despite opposition from the three board members closest to the area. Other potential sites included several unnamed apartment complexes, which would have been too expensive to purchase and would displace hundreds of students, the school district said.
Board members Marshall Orson, Stan Jester and James McMahan spoke at the April 16 board meeting in opposition to the location, saying it would be inaccessible for many on Buford Highway due to the traffic. The vote was 4-3, with those three members voting no.
“Thousands live on the north and west side of I-85. We’d be pushing them through what has historically been ranked one of the ten worst transportation corridors in metro Atlanta,” Orson said.
The school district has allocated nearly $85 million in ESPLOST funding for the new 2,500-seat school. It is needed to alleviate overcrowding at the current Cross Keys High, which is located at 1626 North Druid Hills Road.
The Briarcliff site, a 26-acre property the district still owns, is located less than two miles south of Cross Keys High at 2415 North Druid Hills Road.
Although Briarcliff has long been an expected site for the new school, there were previously rumors the district was eyeing an apartment complex adjacent to Cross Keys High.
In an April 17 response, the school district said they reviewed other potential sites, including several unnamed apartment complexes along the Buford Highway corridor between North Druid Hills Road and Clairmont Road. Purchasing any of the complexes would have displaced 260 to 525 students, the district said.
Purchasing a new site would have also been more expensive, costing $19 to $38 million more than using the Briarcliff site. Purchase costs for the candidate sites ranged from $36 to $54 million, according to the district.
Construction is expected to begin in September 2019. The school is planned to be completely finished by June 2022, according to ESPLOST documents.
The current Cross Keys High is set to become a 1,500-seat middle school in a $10 million project.
Orson, who represents Cross Keys High, said he is concerned the school district is only thinking of the budget and not what would be best for the students that attend the school. The location is too far for many students and is outside of Cross Keys’ current attendance zone, Orson said. The district has also not thoroughly engaged the students and community to get their input, he said.
The school is in area with a historically high Hispanic and immigrant population, which adds to the challenges, Orson said. These communities often have more difficulties with transportation, sometimes due to not having the legal status necessary to acquire a driver’s license, he said.
McMahan, who also spoke in opposition to the school location, said he has asked for how much transporting students to the Briarcliff site would cost and has not received that information.
The district said in its April 17 response that it is conducting a traffic study for the area in partnership with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, which is building a new hospital complex at the I-85 and North Druid Hills Road interchange.
The board members expressed concern about the increased traffic the new hospital would bring.
In addition to the traffic and access issues, Orson said he as concerned that the school district would be again underserving a historically-underserved community.
“We know that we’ve had a historic inequity in this community,” Orson said. “I’m concerned that as we work to address some of that inequity, that we’re not going to do a job that is complete and fair.”
Jester echoed that concern, saying, “We’ve been shortchanging this community for a long, long time.”
This article has been updated with information from an April 17 DeKalb County School District release.