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John Ruch Posted by on September 7, 2017.

Group draws crowd for new North Springs High

The group advocating for a new North Springs Charter High School building drew about 60 people to its debut meeting Sept. 6 in Sandy Springs. The next step: Trying to draw a similar crowd to a Sept. 12 Fulton County Board of Education meeting to push for a fresh review of the school’s condition before the district starts spending $18 million on still more renovations.

“We won’t accept anything less than a new school,” said Jody Reichel, one of the five founding members of Citizens for a New North Springs (CFANNS). Reichel is also a candidate for the Sandy Springs City Council District 4 seat, competing with Le’Dor Milteer.

North Springs Charter High School as pictured in a Citizens for a New North Springs presentation.

Advocacy for replacing the 54-year-old school at 7447 Roswell Road dates back several years, but there is new fuel as Sandy Springs’ other public high school, Riverwood International Charter School, this year opened the first phase of its roughly $80 million new building.

And there’s new political traction, too, as the effort coincides with the city’s renewed plan to promote redevelopment of older apartments and shopping centers along northern Roswell Road. City Councilmembers Chris Burnett and Ken Dishman attended the meeting, and Mayor Rusty Paul said in a social media post, “Add my voice to those supporting this effort.”

Burnett told the crowd, gathered at the North Fulton Annex on Roswell Road, that he played his first varsity football game at North Springs 42 years ago and the school looks similar today. “So I think it’s time. It’s past time,” he said of the replacement effort.

After the meeting, Burnett added that “intuitively, a nice, new school is a real catalyst to spur redevelopment.”

The audience applauded after a presentation that included photos of nicer, newer Fulton County Schools buildings compared to cramped and windowless rooms at North Springs, and documentation of the fall 2015 assessment that kept the school on the list for renovation, rather than reconstruction.

CFANNS questions the assessment’s method and results. Riverwood, built in 1971, scored as slightly more in need of facilities and was granted the new building. CFANNS says that it appears that one subcontracted consultant did the most recent inspections for 96 schools and that the findings are riddled with major errors, such as counting stairways and closets as educational floor space.

No officials from the school, the district or the Board of Education appeared to be in attendance.

Fulton County Schools has previously noted that North Springs got $14 million in upgrades in a 2010 SPLOST, and is marked for a major addition and other upgrades in a 2022 Capital Plan. But CFANNS says most of that past and future work is aimed at maintenance, like replacing the roof, and won’t provide the modern spaces the school needs to stay relevant.

“That truly is lipstick on a pig,” CFANNS’s Cheryl Barlow said of a new entryway added to the façade. She also argued CFANNS’s theme that it is not equitable for Riverwood to get an entire new building while North Springs continues to patch and add.

“It’s like giving one kid a lollipop and the other kid the stick,” Barlow said.

Audience comments were generally supportive and focused on possible replacement timelines and funding sources, and such strategies as using form letters to present a unified message.

Sandy Springs City Councilmember Chris Burnett, standing at right, speaks in support of a new North Springs High building at the Sept. 6 meeting at the North Fulton Annex. (John Ruch)

The timeline and funding are unclear, but CFANNS says a new North Springs likely would be much like the new Riverwood: a lengthy, phased project with several funding sources. The next special local option sales tax, or SPLOST, for education funding is another five years away. And North Springs may not be the only school agitating for a new facility; CFANNS member Betty Klein said that Roswell High parents want a new building, too.

However, there’s that $18 million already earmarked for more North Springs renovations. Klein said the Board of Education is expected to discuss selection of an architect or engineer for those renovations at the Sept. 12 meeting. CFANNS members believe that makes good timing to call for such a professional to reassess the school’s condition and to push for putting the money toward rebuilding. The public comment portion of that meeting starts at 6 p.m. at the North Learning Center, 450 Northridge Parkway in Sandy Springs.

Some audience members said their neighbors have voiced a misconception that a new school would require increased property taxes, rather than through a SPLOST or other state and private sources. That is an important message to counter, they said.

Other comments included a call for more vocal advocacy from city officials; an emphasis on the area’s growing population and property tax base; and caution on getting North Springs parents “comfortable” with the trade-off of giving up immediate renovations.

Another theme was to emphasize the positives of the high-quality education and cultural diversity several parents said their kids experience at North Springs, despite the aging building’s problems. One man said he would not switch to a private school “because they learn a section of the real world at North Springs.”

Also attending was Irene Schweiger, executive director of the Sandy Springs Education Force, a nonprofit that provides supplemental programs in Sandy Springs public schools. Without commenting directly on the building replacement, she suggested that CFANNS’s approach to the Board of Education is a good one.

“The board needs to hear from our community,” Schweiger said. “And I think this community’s going at it in a very systematic way.”

Burnett was among those swayed by CFANNS’s presentation, saying it’s fair to ask whether there were “some flaws in the model” of assessment and also whether Sandy Springs gets back its fair share of the revenue it provides to Fulton County Schools.

“It would seem logical North Springs would be in the next round” of new buildings, Burnett said after the meeting. “I don’t think the academics are suffering, but with a new facility, what more could we do? … The sky’s the limit.”

For more about CFANNS’s presentation materials, see cfanns.org.