The DeKalb County School District is no longer interested in discussing the possibility of keeping the old Austin Elementary School on Roberts Drive open as a way to alleviate overcrowding at the city’s elementary schools, according to city officials.
Dunwoody Mayor Denis Shortal made the announcement toward the end of the May 20 City Council meeting.
“It is now a dead issue,” he said.
Shortal said DeKalb Schools officials and city officials earlier this year began discussions on the possibility of keeping open the old Austin Elementary School at 5435 Roberts Drive after the new 900-seat Austin Elementary School opens next year. The new school is being built about a half-mile down the road from the current school on Roberts Drive and adjacent to the Dunwoody Nature Center.
Portable classrooms, or trailers, currently crowd many Dunwoody schools campuses and they have served as a constant flashpoint for local parents and residents angered by years of overcrowding in DeKalb Schools. The new school was supposed to alleviate overcrowding for the six elementary schools in the Dunwoody cluster, but DeKalb Schools officials say even after the new school opens, there will be more than 500 seats over capacity at the city’s elementary schools. Keeping open the old school temporarily could have been a way to keep students out of trailers, DeKalb Schools officials had said.
But late last week, DeKalb Schools officials said they were no longer interested in keeping the old Austin school open, according to Dunwoody officials.
“We told them our situation and what we would require … and they said they are going in a different direction,” Shortal said at the May 20 meeting. “End of discussion.”
In a May 21 prepared statement, DeKalb Schools said using the old Austin Elementary School temporarily to alleviate overcrowding was not the right choice.
“We evaluated the proposal from all angles, and although we are constantly looking for opportunities for improvement and growth for our students, we did not feel this was the right one,” the statement said.
“Our decision was based on the overall cost of taking on Austin Elementary, which included significant upgrades to the existing facility and renting the school from the city of Dunwoody for only a short period of time,” according to the statement. “We thank the city for the offer and appreciate its commitment to putting students first. We look forward to future partnerships and to the bright future of the Austin Elementary community.”
The city currently owns the old school at 5345 Roberts Drive as part of a 2016 land swap deal with DeKalb Schools. The agreement included trading the former Dunwoody Senior Baseball fields for the property and $3.6 million. DeKalb Schools is building the new school on the site of the former baseball fields. The city has not finalized what it wants to do with the old school property once it is vacated next year, but talks have generally focused on creating a park space.
As part of the 2016 agreement, the city agreed to lease the old school to DeKalb Schools for $63,100 a month so classes could continue as the new school is being constructed. The lease is expected to end once the new school opens in 2020.
Despina Lamas, who will be a member of the Austin Elementary School Foundation in the fall, said she was pleased to hear the news that the old school will not remain open, but she and other parents are urging DeKalb Schools to seriously address overcrowding.
“I look forward students being able to learn in a brand new, state-of-the-art Austin Elementary,” she said in an email.
DeKalb Schools officials previously said that discussion about keeping open the old Austin Elementary School was one of several options being considered in trying to find a way to alleviate overcrowding.
In recent weeks, the school district has said it is also considering asking voters to approve a general obligation bond possibly as soon as next year to repair and build new schools, including possibly a new elementary school in the Dunwoody/Chamblee cluster.