The DeKalb County Board of Education, during a special meeting Thursday night, voted unanimously to enter into a contract to buy land on Allen's Ferry Road for the future site of a new DCHS complex, subject to approval by the county commission and a favorable site assessment study by the engineers who will do the core drilling, etc. on the property.
The fifty seven acre 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.
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 only costs the school system would be out, according to Director Mark Willoughby, would be the expense of having the core drilling, surveys, and site inspections done, which should be no more than $10,000.
The contract states "The purchase of the property by the purchaser shall be conditioned upon approval of property in its sole discretion as suitable for the intended purpose by purchaser's architect and construction manager. Suitability, includes but is not limited to projected cost for site preparation and safe access."
The school system already has the money to purchase the property from it's allocation of state Basic Education Program (BEP) cash reserves, but the county commission has to give it's blessing, in the form of a budget amendment, to allow the school system to spend this money to make the purchase. If the county commission does not approve the expenditure then the deal will not go through. Since no local property tax money would be needed to buy this property, no property tax increase would be required.
During the last meeting on January 13th, David Brown of Kaatz, Binkley, Jones, and Morris, who authored a 2007 facility study for the school system, said the site is plenty large enough to support a new school. "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."
During Thursday night's special meeting, fourth district member Billy Miller expressed concerns about the costs of getting this site prepared for a new school, such as installing a pumping station for sewer and other add-on or recurring expenses, which he said could drive up the school system's costs considerably, perhaps as much as several hundred thousand dollars. Miller said he would like to know if it is ‘cost effective to build it there versus somewhere else".
Seventh district member Johnny Lattimore, in response, said that's part of what the site study (during the 90 day due diligence period) will address.
Third district member Kenny Rhody added that the location also makes this property attractive because it's centrally located in the county. "If you draw an "x" on DeKalb County, that area is dead center of the county. You're not too far from one end (of the county) to the other. It's close to everything that we've got, school bus garage, highways, and it's not as congested."
Even if the school board and county commission agree to make this purchase, no school would be built there for several years, according to fifth district member W.J. (Dub) Evins, III. "We started looking at this (location to purchase land) a few years ago. I think this is a good piece of property but I want to make it clear that we're looking at developing a five year plan. I want to make sure that everyone understands that we're not going to be breaking ground on a piece of property within the next couple of years. We're going through a long, tedious process to make sure we do things properly so no one gets concerned about their property taxes going up. We're looking at a long range plan, a five year plan. Something may happen earlier, later, or it may not happen."
Evins added "I have had people express concerns about building a high school versus an elementary school. We are in need of an elementary school, but we are in worse need of a high school. If that high school is built within five years or ten years and other classes are moved upward, in other words the middle school moved up to the (existing) high school facility, then Smithville Elementary (students) could ultimately be moved over to Northside, so the old (existing) Smithville Elementary School would be no more. That's the rationale behind all this, if that's what the (school) board decides to do at that point."
"Someone has suggested that we build something for K-8, which would actually be pre-K through 8, said Evins. But you're talking about ten class grades there (pre-k through 8). The pupil-teacher ratio at that point is 20 to 25 pupils per teacher, whereas at the high school it's 35 students per teacher. So you're talking about ten grade levels (pre-k through 8) versus four grade levels at the high school. When you factor in the pupil-teacher ratio, the cost of building a new pre-k through 8 school would be exponential in comparison to what a high school would cost. We want a new elementary school, but if we get a new high school, there will be another elementary school", said Evins.