School Board Seeks Approval from County Commission to Purchase Property for New High School

April 28, 2008
Dwayne Page

The DeKalb County Board of Education wants to purchase at least 60 acres and possibly 80 to 100 acres of land for construction of a new high school. However, the county commission must first grant approval.

With that in mind, Director of Schools Mark Willoughby and School Board Chairman W.J. (Dub) Evins III addressed the county commission Monday night to formally make the request for funding once a suitable site has been located. Design consultant David Brown of Kaatz, Binkley, Jones, and Morris Architects, Incorporated of Mount Juliet and Knoxville also addressed the commission about the proposed school building project

County Mayor Mike Foster and the county commission listened to the request and some members asked questions but they gave no assurances. Foster said the issue will first have to be taken up by the county budget committee, which will begin having meetings May 15th on the proposed budget for 2008-09.

Willoughby and Evins urged the commission to consider authorizing funding for the land purchase soon noting that property values are ever increasing, and the costs to the county would be significantly more later.

Evins, in his remarks to the commission, said "This kind of project can't happen overnight. What we're really here tonight to ask for is consideration to look at phase I which would be the purchase of some land. I don't think we could go wrong buying real estate. I'm not trying to get the cart before the horse, but you're the funding body and we're not going to go out and look at a lot of land until we've got an ok and go ahead from the commission. The longer we wait, the higher land prices get."

Willoughy says the high school is already over crowded and the problem will only get worse with time. "Right now there are 796 students in DeKalb County High School. With no growth. If everybody just stays in the school system, nobody comes and nobody leaves, next year there will be 847 students. The following year there will be 873 students. By the time the first grade gets up to high school, there will be 945 students at DeKalb County High School. It's going to be pretty hard getting through the hallways with that many people. We have been growing at a steady pace of over 3%."

Brown says three proposed sites are under consideration in the proximity of the existing high school. "The next thing that needs to happen in the process is to look at location. We're looking at three different properties right now. We're doing our evaluation on all three. The ideal time line is for us to go through this evaluation and exercise and then go back to the school board in May and present them with that information and I expect it will be enough information for them to make a decision and have a recommendation and then to bring that recommendation back to this body (commision) with the intent being able to go ahead and purchase the property and move ahead with the project. A few of the things we'll look at is the total acreage along with any adjacent land that's available for expansion. Then there's the land acquisition cost and the cost to develop the site. There's environmental issues. Are there wetlands or anything we need to work around? Geotechnical information. What's the soil like? Is it rock? Is it clay? Is it dirt? Just what is it? Grading and drainage. What kind of storm water detention might we be looking at? Erosion control. Does the site have existing grading and drainage issues?. Transportation. Is there sufficient access to public roads? Utilities. Is there water, power, and sewer. We want to make sure that infrastructure around this location can support a school of this kind."

"We're conceiving of 1200 students and that means that the gymnasium, the cafeteria, the kitchen, the media center, all of those core spaces will be designed to handle that many students. That does not mean you have to build that many classrooms up front. The school will be designed so that as you grow in the future you can add those classrooms. We might be in the 1,000 student range when we open the building but it will be expandable by about another 200 students at least. I would be very concerned with anything under 60 acres because in addition to the school there's the normal suite of athletic facilities and ballfields, which is typically a football stadium with track, a practice field, baseball, softball, soccer, and possibly a tennis court and a band practice field. We can make all that happen on 60 acres but it's not uncommon for our clients to go 80 acres or more depending on how much event parking they want or if they want to put another school on that same campus someday, which we are doing more and more of because land is becoming harder to find and it's becoming more expensive."

The DeKalb County Board of Education, last fall, announced plans for a school building program to meet existing and future space and curriculum needs.

Under consideration is a proposal to build a new high school for grades 9 to 12, renovate the existing high school making it into the new location for DeKalb Middle school for grades 5-8, make renovations and additions to DeKalb West School, make Northside Elementary a school for grades 2 to 4, and make Smithville Elementary a school for Pre-K and first grade. The total project cost is between $34-million and $40-million dollars.

The architects have proposed that a new high school be built for grades 9 to 12. This facility would not only address the space and curriculum needs at the high school level but would also avoid large addition/renovation projects at the middle school and elementary schools. The approximate student population would be 850 with a core capacity of 1,200 for a core utilization of 70% and an average of 212 students per grade. A new 1,200 student high school facility (with athletic fields) would cost $28-million to $32-million dollars.

The plan calls for renovation of the existing high school into a grade 5-8 DeKalb Middle School with an approximate population of 675 and a core capacity of 1,000 with a core utilization of 68% and an average of 168 students per grade.

Willoughby says the existing DeKalb Middle School building could be used by the county as a civic center, complete with kitchen and dining facilities, auditorium, and plenty of meeting rooms.

According to the study, DeKalb West would remain a Pre-K to eighth grade school but there would be additions and renovations to increase the core capacity of the school. The plan calls for the kitchen/cafeteria to either be expanded or replaced as well as the addition of four classrooms. The approximate population would be 428 with a core capacity of 600, a core utilization of 71%, and an average of 48 students per grade. The proposed addition would increase the core capacity. The estimated cost of making the addition to DeKalb West including a new kitchen/cafeteria, classrooms, and administration would be $1.5 million to $2- million dollars.

Northside Elementary would become a school for grades 2 to 4. The second grade would be moved from Smithville Elementary and the fifth grade would go from Northside to DeKalb Middle School. This would relieve the pressure on SES without requiring an addition at Northside. The approximate population at Northside would be 508 with a core capacity of 750, core utilization of 67%, and an average of 170 students per grade. The renovation at Smithville Elementary, Northside, and DeKalb Middle Schools is projected to be $750,000 to $1.5 million dollars.

By moving the second grade to Northside Elementary, Smithville Elementary's student population would be back within the natural core capacity of the school without an addition, although some minor renovation would still be needed. The approximate student population at SES would be 477, the core capacity 528 and the core utilization would be at 90%.

Again, the preliminary budget to fund this project comes to $34-million to $40-million which includes, in addition to the construction costs, $650,000 to $750,000 for furniture and equipment; $500,000 to $600,000 for technology; $1.8 million to $2.2 million in fees for site survey, geotechnical, civil engineering, environmental, fire marshal, legal, design, printing and a 3% contingency of $900,000 to $1 million dollars.

The budget figures do not include additional code required upgrades to existing facilities and do not include land acquisition costs. The figures may change based on site survey, environmental and geotechnical information not yet provided.

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