Brookhaven, GA, May 10, 2016 – by Trey Benton – Brookhaven City Councilmembers unanimously approved the sale of Skyland Park to the DeKalb County Board of Education (BOE) for $4.7 million, Tuesday evening. This purchase is part of a plan for the DeKalb School District to construct a new elementary school in Brookhaven and is also part of a larger $7.5 million deal that includes the BOE’s purchase of Skyland Center from the Georgia State Properties Commission.
The school at this point is slated house 900 students and cost approximately $22 million to construct.
Tuesday’s approval did come without considerable opposition from a group of residents who live in the Canmont Drive area, across Skyland Dr. from the proposed new school site. Those who spoke said they are not in support of the school project at this time, not because they do not support education initiatives, but because they simply do not know enough about the proposal. They appealed to the City Council to slow down and give the community time to react to a plan that “fell into our lap out of nowhere just yesterday.”
“For you guys to impact all of us without the prior warning, and without the ability to organize and really understand what’s happening, it feels a little like we are being thrown under the bus as a community…and that just feels terrible,” Canmont Dr. resident Susanna Post said.
Another resident, Matt Ades, said he and his wife feel as though a school at the Skyland Center location will negatively impact their quality of life. He said he will be putting a for-sale sign in his yard tomorrow and “say goodbye.”
Ashford Park resident, Ronnie Mayer scolded Councilmembers for their decision. “Shame on y’all for selling out our City,” said Mayer. “Y’all just sold out all of Ashford Park for $2 million dollars. This just makes my blood boil. No thinking. No talking to the neighborhoods. You’ve sold out the City.”
But not everyone who spoke Tuesday evening was against the Council’s approval decision, a decision Councilmembers said they were faced with making in a very compressed timeframe in order to keep the State of Georgia from listing the property on the open Market.
Lissie Stahlman, who has led efforts to improve Skyland Park, said as a Drew Valley homeowner for more than 32 years and a former teacher, she is thrilled a State-of-the-Art public school will be built at this location. “I know the difficulties that teachers and students have and I know the importance of alleviating overcrowded schools,” she said. “I guarantee you there will be fewer trailers with kids to have to ‘hold-it’ because they can’t use the restroom and wind up with urinary tract infections. That’s what’s happening right now.”
“The decisions you made here tonight are of generational consequence,” said Kim Gökçe, a resident of the Hillsdale neighborhood and President of the Cross Keys Foundation. “While I understand the concerns that are raised by my neighbors and friends…we have to have public schools with seats.” Gökçe said all of the schools in the Cross Keys cluster are over capacity, “We have to have seats.”
One by one Councilmembers defended their decision and they all agreed the timing was not ideal. “This is not just a Brookhaven issue,” said Councilman Joe Gebbia. “This is a regional issue. We all have our concerns about the education system in DeKalb County. We have tried as a Council to improve education where we can.”
Councilwoman Linley Jones said that for a very long time she has been tremendously concerned about the Skyland building, and what would become of that property because the State is moving out. “I have done everything in my power to protect Brookhaven, to protect your community,” she said. “I don’t see a better outcome and it’s time limited. If I voted ‘no’, I’m afraid that would be a vote to put it in the hands of private developers.”
“The deadlines for this deal made public input nearly impossible,” Mayor John Ernst told those in attendance. “When everything is built out, I believe it will be a pillar for our community. In the end, we are dealt with the facts that we have, and we have to make decisions.”
“The comments and concerns from the community about just learning about this, is a part of governance,” City Attorney Chris Balch told Councilmembers. “We live in a representative republic, in a representative democracy. This is not ancient Athens where we have direct participation and the reason that each of you were elected is to provide the voice of the people for the citizens.”
After the meeting adjourned, Mayor Ernst invited concerned residents to stick around for a while. The residents, Mayor Ernst and Councilwoman Jones discussed the school and what can be done at this point. Jones and Ernst promised they will work alongside the residents to address their concerns with the school, traffic patterns and other issues throughout the process.
“What we will do, is work with you to facilitate a meeting with DeKalb County Schools,” said Ernst. “We can even meet right here in City Hall. And we can work together.” Jones concurred and offered her support.
DeKalb County Schools says the new elementary school, which should be completed in Fall of 2019, will provide relief for several existing elementary schools including Dresden, Montclair, and Woodward.
Details included in the IGA with the City of Brookhaven and the State of Georgia are as follows:
- Acquire the former Skyland Elementary School site from the State of Georgia, which now houses the State Vital Records Office for $2.8 million for 5.3 acres
- Transfer 4.17 acres of the acquired State property to the City of Brookhaven
- Purchase the existing Skyland Park of 10.6 acres for $4.7 million from the City of Brookhaven
Of the $4.7 million Brookhaven will receive for Skyland Park, roughly $2.3 million will be spent on demolishing Skyland Center and building a brand new park on the property, in accordance with the City’s Parks and Recreation Master Plan. The remaining $2.4 will be spent on greenspace and park acquisition in other areas of the City.
According to the City, the new park space will be accessible to park-goers during regularly posted park hours. The land and the parking adjacent to the school will be available to residents after school hours. Additionally, the City will own the parkland and it will be an official City of Brookhaven park.
The City is currently working on amended plans (prelim below) for the new Skyland Park and will include the same amenities scoped in the site specific Parks and Rec. Master plans, but on a smaller scale, less the tennis courts. The new park will be approximately 4.17 acres, a little less than half of Skyland Park’s current 11 (+/-) acres.
The GreenbergFarrow plan features a small dog park, a large dog park multi-use field, nature trail, a real restrooms, group shelters and a playground.