School Board Postpones Action on Land Purchase Until Contract Finalized

January 13, 2011
by: 
Dwayne Page
School Board to Consider Purchase of 57 Acres for New School
David Brown of KBJM Architects, Inc addresses School Board
Members of School Board
Members of School Board and Director of Schools

The DeKalb County Board of Education Thursday night postponed action on entering into a deal to buy property on Allen's Ferry Road for the future site of a new DCHS complex until attorneys for the board and the owners finalize the contract. Once that is done, the board is expected to call a special meeting to decide on whether to move forward.

Under consideration is the purchase of a fifty seven acre site, which belongs to Mark and Karen Adams, Melvin and LeeAnn Crips, and Billy Crips. The property is located near the existing DCHS/DeKalb Middle school campuses. The purchase price has not yet been disclosed to the media.

Board Chairman Charles Robinson said this property has been under consideration since 2007 when a facility study was conducted at no cost to the board by the architectural firm of Kaatz, Binkley, Jones, and Morris of Mount Juliet. " This study was presented to the DeKalb County Commission in October, 2008. During this presentation, the commission was informed of two tracts of land in the vicinity of the present high school, suitable to build on. One tract was for sale. The other had indications that it could be available. The tract for sale in 2007 remains on the market today. This tract is centrally located and is accessible from all areas of DeKalb County and is adjacent to DeKalb Middle School and DCHS. The DeKalb County School Board can use cash reserves, up to a certain amount, from it's Basic Education Program (BEP) funding to make a purchase. BEP funding has many strings attached. This is state money the DeKalb County Board of Education receives from the state of Tennessee. It is not local funding. Mr. Bobby Palmer, who represents the state department of education and advises our board on budgetary issues, reports that the state would approve this one time expenditure. If this board votes to continue with this purchase, we must also get approval from our funding body, the DeKalb County Commission."

David Brown of Kaatz, Binkley, Jones, and Morris, who authored the 2007 facility study, took questions from the board Thursday night on the suitability of the property. Brown said the site is plenty large enough to support a new school. "We've looked at this with the engineers and I don't think we're going to run into an issue as far as the topography goes. We look at the grade. We look at transportation. We look at the road and infrastructure around it. We look at utilities. Have we got water? Is there gas available? Is there electricity? Then we look at the actual area of how much have we got to work with there. We don't have a concern on our end whether you would be able to fit as much as you wanted to on the property you've got available. Now that whole fifty seven acres is not usable, but what is usable (about 45 acres) is plenty big for what we would propose or what you would want to build out there. We've had our geo-tech engineer walk the site. We've had our civil engineer walk the site and it's a good site. (City) sewer is not on site, but it is close (within a half mile) and that's the only utility that's not right there on your roads so it would be the only utility we would have to extend and bring on site."

Director Mark Willoughby, who had hoped that the purchasing contract would be ready to present to the board of education Thursday night, said action on it would have to wait a few days. "Their owners) attorney and our (TSBA) attorney have been working on this (contract) today and we had an issue we needed to work out. Although we're not ready to present a contract (tonight) I believe we will be able to have an agreement by sometime next week."

Billy Crips, addressing discrepancies in the contract, informed the board Thursday night that "What I was concerned about was the clauses in there that had to deal with the board's due diligence and their studies on the property. And if the board deemed tonight to go through with purchasing the property, there was recourse in there for the board to be able to go to the seller and ask for costs in return for doing those studies. So I was uncomfortable with signing that. And also there was a stipulation in there with a discrepancy between a general deed and a special deed. I'm not really up on what that means, one versus the other and that's where the attorneys were kind of butting heads and saying let's do it this way, and the other one saying, let's do it this way. We just ran out of time today to get that clarified and move forward."

Willoughby said the school board could have a special meeting to consider approval of the contract, once the parties resolve those issues.

Meanwhile, Charles Atnip, local realtor, addressed the board members asking them to consider another site, located on Highway 56 north across from Northside Elementary School, belonging to Brannon and Katherine Hurst.

In a letter to the director of schools and the board, Atnip wrote that "As you consider choices for property of a new high school there are several choices you should consider, the location, the lay of the land, access to main highways, availability to other land if needed, and later and final price."

Atnip, who represents the Hurst family, stated that "they have choice property for sale just across from Northside Elementary on North Congress Boulevard. The property could also have access to Holmes Creek Road (Allens Ferry Road)."

"This land has all utilities in front of the property, with the main sewer trunk line running near the property line."

"This land is level to gently rolling with good drainage. The board would also have availability to as many acres as they desire."

"Mr. Willoughby and the board need to consider more than just one piece of property in this important decision for the future of our county and it's taxpayers", said Atnip.

"The current property the school board is looking into, the site preparation of this property would run them hundreds of thousands of dollars. This does not include the sewer lines and a pumping station the school board will have to maintain for the duration of the life of the school. Not currently knowing if the current city sewer lines will handle the extra load of 800 plus students."

"I ask humbly for your consideration on this piece of property that I represent. Whether it be this property or not, I think we should think long and hard about the current property being sought."

Fifth district member W.J. (Dub) Evins, III said he became aware several months ago that the Hurst's, heirs of Alonzo Allen, had a desire to sell some land. "We were, at that time, still looking for real estate. Mr. Hurst contacted me a few weeks later and we talked for quite a while but the bottom line was he asked $25,000 an acre. At that time, I told him that you could call Mr. Willoughby and talk to him but I, as a board member, felt like that was not the kind of real estate we were looking for. It was way out of line with what our budget was."

Willoughby said the heirs of Mr. Allen also contacted him after speaking with Evins. "We rode over the land, walked over the land, and the $25,000 per acre is what was presented to me and in all honesty I told them that I did not even feel comfortable presenting that price to the board."

In response, Atnip said "I think that price is negotiable today."

Seventh district member Johnny Lattimore asked Atnip "Do you have any idea what the cost of the land would be today?"

Atnip responded, "not without you telling me what part of that land you want. Then we could arrive at a price."

Evins said he felt like it might not be proper or legal for the board to consider other property now since it is in contract negotiations on the Adams-Cripps property.

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