County Commission to Make Decision on School Land Purchase Next Month

March 29, 2011
by: 
Dwayne Page
Property on Allen Ferry Road

The DeKalb County Board of Education has until April 27th to let the property owners know whether it will be able to purchase fifty two acres on Allen Ferry Road for the future home of a new school but it can't make the transaction without the blessing of the county commission

Monday night, Director of Schools Mark Willoughby along with architect David Brown and Engineer Jim Harrison addressed the county commission on the suitability of the site now that core drilling has been conducted.

Willoughby, on behalf of the board of education, asked that the land be purchased for the development of a school in the future, whether it be a high school, elementary, or middle school. "Right now, we are just wanting to purchase land for future building needs whether its going to be a high school, middle school, elementary school, or whatever. I have asked them (architect and engineer) to look at this particular site and evaluate it. Also in doing this, I have asked them to figure out the most productive way that we can use this site. These guys have produced where everything would set on the drawings."

David Brown of KBJM Architects, Inc. of Mount Juliet brought with him a drawing of the site with a generic footprint of a 1200 student high school facility. Brown stressed that the drawing was done only to depict the size of campus the property could accommodate and does not represent any design specific to DeKalb County. "I'm on the architectural end of things. My standpoint was given the shape of the plot, could we actually physically locate everything that you would want to locate out there? As Mark (Willoughby) mentioned, who knows at this point if it would be a middle school or high school, but a high school campus is the most complex, largest thing you could build so we looked at the available area and said, can we put those things out there and arrange them in the way they need to be arranged successfully on the land that we're looking at? A high school campus has a lot more than just a school. It has the stadium, practice fields, soccer fields, baseball, softball, tennis courts, field house and whatever anticipated might be asked of us. We wanted to answer could we actually fit those things or not (on this property)? We've been able to arrange them in such a way that makes sense. We were able to do this without getting into the extreme grades (of the property) that are in the back. We were able to do all this within the property that can be easily graded. In addition to the architectural standpoint of just laying out the spaces and uses, Jim (Harrison) looked at utilities, grading, drainage, and environmental impacts. We had a geotechnical engineer go out and dig holes and evaluate the soils and basically we found what we expected to find. We do a lot of work in this area of the state and it was really no different than we're accustomed to seeing," said Brown.

In his remarks to the commission, Harrison said engineering studies found approximately 44 acres of the property to be suitable for building a school. "What we did was look at grading, utilities, water, sewer, and gas. We also looked at the roadway out along the frontage where you'd want to position drives and things that are geometrically needed for the site to work. In general, we have a rise here (on the property) that we're taking down. That material is taken down and brought to the front where the school would be built. In the studies we did recently, we had several comparison sites where we had looked at comparable sites just to look at how much grading was typically required on this size of tract and it was in the lower third from that standpoint. We looked at the utilities from the sewer standpoint. We would have to run a pump station and a course main up to connect onto the gravity sewer which is on the front of the existing high school. We met with the utilities regarding that as well as the water line. The water line has adequate pressure and flow. We've actually got a backup system from two different tanks so that helps give some redundancy and makes sure we've got a good, safe flow to protect ourselves during a fire event without any improvements to the infrastructure that are off site in that situation. Anytime you have a site like this you start looking at those unusual things. You've always got storm drainage out in the parking lot, paving on the site, and standard stuff but there are some key things that we look at including the grading and utility issues. The bottom line with our evaluation is that you have a site that lays flat enough to develop in a good fashion for the sports fields and parking in the back and the building in the front. You have a site that has enough fall. Its not too flat. It has enough fall to provide the proper drainage away from those facilities and key structures. Our evaluation is that you have adequate room at a reasonable cost, being in the lower third of those other typical sites that we've looked at. We feel like this is a very good site for a high school or some other sort of school use," said Harrison.

Harrison also addressed the issue of drainage. "The soils are pretty common for the area so what you typically do in that type of area is you build some trenches in and let it drain out properly. One of the problems with the soil out there right now is its wet and soggy but not a lot of grading has been done. Basically there's just an old trail that's been running through there. It grades to the north. When the development were to occur it would tend to drain to the north. There's a little piece of it that drains to the south but there's enough fall to get good positive drainage so you can get the water out. We actually extensively talked with a geo-technical engineer about how well that would work. We can handle that in a pretty easy fashion. In simple terms its called drying out the soils. It won't have any adverse affect (on adjoining landowners). There's a little portion of this property that drains in a way that we'll have to re-direct it. We'll make sure there's not any increase of water running off of our site onto the adjacent property. We'll also have a retention pond on the property. Obviously when you're done, there will be a lot of asphalt where you didn't have asphalt before. So as that water drains off it needs to pond up a little bit before it releases," said Harrison.

County Mayor Mike Foster and several county commissioners posed questions to both the architect and engineer about the property including second district member Jack Barton, who shared his concerns about the useable price per acre of this site."What this body would really like to see is all of your figures brought down to a useable price per acre. If your dirt work is "x" amount and the unuseable acres is this (certain) amount, then is the (useable price per acre) at eight thousand dollars an acre, nine thousand dollars an acre, or is it more accurately fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen thousand dollars an acre? It would be good to know what your true cost is before you build and then you could say are there other options? It's the fiduciary obligation of this board to explore all those (options)," said Barton.

In response to questions, Harrison said "We had a number of sites that we looked at in Watertown (for a new school) and every one of those sites had unusable land on it. In fact the site that they ultimately chose had probably about 20% of the land area on that site that was not useable for different reasons. We compared those useable versus non useable areas and then we compared the costs that could change to that evaluation that we did there and under the costs that could change we came up with $2.1 million on this site (Smithville) and the average we had for the sites we looked at in Watertown was $2.7 million. That's a comparison cost that we use which includes grading, utilities, water and sewer. It's the average of the total extraordinary cost items that we found on each site. There were five sites (in Watertown) and that $2.7 million was the average," said Harrison.

According to Harrison excavation will include some 230,000 cubic yards of grading on the site at a cost of $8.00 per cubic yard and a sewage pumping station will have to be installed. "We actually have sewer costs at $49,000 and for the pump station at $125,000. That's for the on-site pump station and to carry it out to the sanitary sewer manhole in front of the existing high school," said Harrison.

In January, the school board voted unanimously to enter into a contract to buy this property, subject to approval by the county commission and a favorable site assessment study by the engineers.

The site, which is located near the existing DCHS/DeKalb Middle School campuses, belongs to Mark and Karen Adams, Melvin and LeeAnn Crips, and Billy Crips. The purchase price is $374,000.

Under terms of the contract, the school system has a 90 day "due diligence" period to have an engineering firm conduct core drilling, inspections of the title to the property, the environment condition of the land, and other site assessments to determine whether the property is satisfactory for it's intended purposes. That has now been completed.

If within the 90 day period, the property is found to be unsuitable, the school system may notify the sellers, who would then be required to return the $10,000 earnest money put down by the school system.

The school board has the money to purchase the property from its allocation of state BEP funds, but the county commission must agree to allow the board to spend the money by approving a budget amendment.

During Monday night's meeting, County Mayor Mike Foster asked the architect and engineer to provide the county commission with more information on the site studies in time for a workshop on April 14th. The commission will then be prepared to make a final decision on the purchase by the next regular meeting on April 18th.

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