DUNWOODY, Ga. — Relief is coming, but slowly, for overcrowded schools in Dunwoody, and parents should expect more trailers at Dunwoody High School before permanent additions are constructed.
Representatives from DeKalb County Schools presented construction updates and an early outline for long-term overcrowding relief to the Dunwoody City Council at its July 22 meeting. DeKalb County Schools Chief Operations Officer Dan Drake and Design and Construction Director Richard Boyd reported the status on current SPLOST projects, portable classroom projects and possible future additions. The presentation included preliminary plans for a new $34 million, 900-seat elementary school in the Chamblee cluster to relieve overcrowding.
The precise budget for many of the upcoming construction projects will depend upon a $220-$250 million general obligation bond that could come through a March 2020 referendum.
State Board of Education representatives were invited to attend the council meeting, but did not come.
Several permanent structures, including a 41-classroom addition to Dunwoody High School and an 18-classroom addition to Peachtree Charter Middle School will not be completed until at earliest the fall of 2022 and the fall of 2023 respectively. There are no plans for additional fields or a new gym at the high school, but the cafeteria and kitchen would be expanded in the current plan. There will most likely be more trailers at the high school next fall, Drake said, and Peachtree’s trailers will need work to remove water damage and add gutters.
Expanding the plot size of Dunwoody High School will not be feasible, because of prohibitive land costs, Drake said.
Austin Elementary is 80 percent complete, Boyd said, and is still expected to be ready for January 2020.
Mayor Dennis Shortal took issue with the appearance of Austin Elementary School, comparing the building with a state prison he had seen in Omaha, Neb.
Boyd said that the large retaining wall at the school would be painted eventually.
Kingsley Elementary will see an overhaul expected to start in April 2021 and complete November 2023 for $2.61 million to replace large parts of the building with an emphasis on HVAC and site improvements. Elementary schools throughout the county are in the worst shape compared with other types of schools, Drake said, so when doing renovations it is best to tear them down and build them back up, rather than just patch them together.
But in the interim, these future construction plans were not satisfactory to Councilwoman Lynn Deutsch.
“I implore you to come up with some out-of-the-box solutions for the interim,” Deutsch said. “Simply adding more and more trailers to any campus — not just the campuses in my community — ought to be the last resort, not the first resort.”
The council still had questions about the trailer that was installed on the sidewalk, sitting on cinderblocks at Dunwoody High School, with Councilman Terry Nall asking directly why it was ever installed there.
“What were you all thinking, what was the installer thinking?” Nall said. “It just doesn’t look right.”
The trailer will be moved on July 29, Drake said. The installer and DeKalb Schools staff members were confused, Drake said. They thought they had to comply with the city zoning, even though this was not where the trailer was placed in drawings or site plans.
Councilman John Heneghan asked if schools would be ready on Aug. 5 while there were so many work orders still open, according to the DeKalb Schools website.
One of the larger issues with maintaining schools is the amount of staff available to the school district after major cutbacks in 2009 and 2012, Drake said. The school system has slowly regained staff, including 38 hires in the coming fiscal year, but this makes a backload of work orders difficult to finish in a timely manner.
Construction costs have increased by 15-20 percent since these SPLOST V funded projects were planned, and this is consistent with what other school systems are experiencing, Drake said.
The school district will begin the first of its three public meetings on redistricting at the end of September.