While the announcement of a new elementary school in Dunwoody is being welcomed by some residents and officials, they are also questioning the move when local middle and high schools remain overpopulated.
The DeKalb County Board of Education approved plans Nov. 9 to build a 950-student school on the former campus of Shallowford Elementary on Chamblee-Dunwoody Road. The construction timetable is not set, but the project is expected to be fast-tracked.
Along with the opening of a larger Austin Elementary School on Roberts Drive earlier this year, the new site is expected to alleviate some overcrowding that has led the DeKalb County School District to contentious redistrictings and use of trailers as temporary classrooms.
“The space is certainly needed,” said Mayor Lynn Deutsch. But the middle and high school student populations could certainly use “some help as well,” she said.
Parent Marissa Evans agrees. She has two students at Dunwoody Elementary and said many of her friends have left to go to private schools because of the overcrowding and other issues with the school system.
“You have to look at where the greater need is,” she said about the middle and high schools.
Evans said that it appeared the overcrowding at Dunwoody Elementary had been alleviated. During this school year, which has been virtual, fourth- and fifth-graders were moved to a Brookhaven facility currently being used by Kittredge Magnet School. The magnet students moved to a site on North Druid Hills Road in unincorporated DeKalb. That allowed Dunwoody Elementary to remove all portable classrooms.
Deutsch said the new Shallowford Elementary was a budgeting issue, in that it was cheaper to build another primary school than it would have been a middle or high school.
The school board approved a $1.15 billion budget in July, but it ended up with less money than it expected for construction projects at the end of last year, Deutsch said.
The school board is looking at all affordable options to alleviate the overcrowding, said board member Stan Jester.
“The new elementary school at the Shallowford site is expected to serve the Dunwoody and Chamblee clusters, which are in dire need of elementary seats,” he said in an email. “The district will look to the CMP [Comprehensive Master Plan] for guidance in the best way to move forward to address enrollment and capacity issues at middle and high schools across the district.”
Redistricting has also been used to fight the overcrowding.
A controversial redistricting plan approved in February provides relief to Dunwoody and Hightower elementary schools. About 100 students will be moved from Dunwoody to the new Austin Elementary School, and about 100 will be moved from Hightower outside the cluster to Doraville United.
The redistricting plan commits the district to developing a Comprehensive Master Plan during the current school year. The master plan will look at long-term enrollment forecasts, facility assessments, capital project prioritization, budgeting and redistricting.
School members chose to site the $35 million new elementary school at 4680 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road in the Georgetown area. It will serve students from both Chamblee and Dunwoody.
The original Shallowford Elementary was originally constructed on the 9.4-acre Dunwoody property in 1968. A gymnasium building and covered walkway were added in 1998. The school was later repurposed as Chamblee Middle School. But by 2011, it had “deteriorated beyond economical repair,” according to the district. The school was deemed unsafe and uninhabitable, and was demolished in 2014.
District officials say the new school will alleviate overcrowding in current elementary schools in the area. The school board approved construction and funding for the new school in February. The district will pay for the project with funds from an E-SPLOST, a 1% sales tax reapproved by voters in 2016.
The site plan includes a 118,000-square-foot schoolhouse with a courtyard, flanked by a parking lot with a capacity of 116 spaces and a school bus drop-off/pick-up depot just west of the building. A playground, 1.5-acre field and basketball court are slated for the outer perimeters of the property. Plans also include options for four future modular classrooms.
The district already owns the undeveloped site. Noel Maloof, the district’s operations chief, said he expects construction to begin quickly and accelerate rapidly because the school is being built anew.
–Matt Bruce contributed