By C. Julia Nelson
While the city patiently awaits the Fulton County Board of Education (FCBE) decision as to whether construction of the elementary school at Ison Road will be delayed a year, a local neighborhood alliance has another concern.
In November 2005, a private risk/hazard analysis released to the district and prepared by QORE, presented potential hazards at the Ison site relative to a nearby 40-inch petroleum line and the site’s proximity to tanker trucks traveling along Roswell Road and a few other factors.
Susan Hale, communication project manager for FCBE said the report examines worst case scenarios for 13 potential site hazards as required by the Georgia Department of Education (GDOE) for site selection.
“It looks for issues that might disqualify the site from being a suitable property to build a school,” she said.
Completed on behalf of the district, the report warns of potential fatalities in these scenarios. For example, if the pipeline, located about a half mile from the proposed school, would rupture or a passing tanker truck on Roswell would explode, the students and staff could potentially be in harm’s way.
As is policy for all potential school site acquisitions, the GDOE completed a site assessment after the risk/hazard analysis was done, in December 2005. Upon review, GDOE issued a preliminary site approval pending action on the part of FCBE to mitigate the potential hazards as identified in the earlier report to reduce the likelihood of harm and/or fatality.
Dana Tofig, GDOE director of communications said the state’s engineers made recommendations on what mitigating factors had to be addressed to make the site safe to build a school.
“Some of the changes had to do with gas lines,” Tofig said. “(Sandy Springs) is so fully developed that there’s utilities in a lot of places.”
Jim Ramseur, chairman of the Ison Road Neighborhood Alliance and a community representative on a design review committee for the proposed school, is not convinced the necessary mitigations have been considered and is fearful of the board misspending taxpayer dollars should a catastrophe occur at the site.
“We’ve yet to see where these issues are being mitigated,” he said.
Per GDOE, there are five mitigating requirements for the Ison Road site. First, the board must incorporate eight to 10-foot soil berms (walls) to the east and south of the site to separate the school from potential petroleum vapors or tanker explosions.
“(Berms) will be part of the construction plan,” Hale said.
Although a preliminary site plan received approval at the March 13 FCBE meeting, Hale said it is a breathing document that can and will be adjusted accordingly.
Next, based on the site’s proximity to a state-owned tributary, the board must control access to it with appropriate fencing. The board plans to construct a 10-foot vinyl chain link fence at top of walls and 6 feet at grade level.
“That will be part of our standard erosion control plan,” Hale said.
This portion of the project will be installed just prior construction commencement. A date for this has not been finalized, but it is likely to begin during the summer.
Additionally, playgrounds should be located on the west side of the property. The current site plan shows four playground pods near the center of the project and two play fields located to the north and east sides of the project.
“We will address (playground location) with the architect,” Hale said, “and have him look at it again.”
The fourth mitigating factor, as is standard practice, requires the district to coordinate evacuation and emergency response plans with local authorities.
“All of our projects are coordinated with the local jurisdictions,” Hale said. “We will work with the appropriate emergency response agencies to make sure we’re in compliance with the emergency plans. Right now we’re still in the permitting phase with Sandy Springs.”
Finally, the district must locate the school outside the flood plain area. Hale indicated the proposed school will be built 270 feet away from that area.
“We would not locate a school building within a flood plain,” she said. “We will meet all five of these (mitigations), they are just in different phases of completion.”
Road to safety
GDOE communications spokesperson Matt Cardoza said that once the district has prepared official blueprints, including the recommended mitigating factors, a facilities review team of GDOE architects will assess the prints for final site approval.
“The site is OK for a school assuming these mitigation efforts are made,” Cardoza said. “Assuming those are done then we will approve (the site) and they can go forward with the rest of the process.”
The current site plan, approved March 13, calls for a three-story, 126,000 square foot building located at the first bend of Ison Road off Roswell Road. It would serve a full time enrollment of 850 students, which is essential to relieve overcrowding in the neighboring elementary schools.
“As part of the design review board, as a neighbor and tax payer,” Ramseur said. “I don’t want to spend millions and then have a catastrophe.”
The district spent about $10.7 million to purchase the property in 2005 and will invest another $28 million through SPLOST III (a special-purpose, local-option sales tax) to build the school.
According to Hale, the district relies on the state for final determination of site safety.
“We’re confident, based on the report and the (Georgia) Department of Education’s (preliminary) approval, that the Ison Road property is indeed safe for children and the community surrounding it,” she said. “The state board would not approve something that is not safe for students.”
Sandy Springs City Councilwoman Ashley Jenkins, Dist. 4, emphasized that council has no control over where the board chooses to build the school, but hopes that with approval from the state, the board will be able to make the site suitable for the staff and students.
“We can’t prevent them from picking a site. The school board has to have approval from the state,” she said.
On the other hand, Jenkins is concerned that overcrowding will get worse if the school isn’t built on time by the fall of 2009.
“I want to see the school built and built now,” she said. “We have a severe overcrowding problem, an economy that is down-turning that may bring private students into public schools. The board has to be able to accommodate those parents and children.”
Accordingly, Ramseur recognized the overcrowding problem, but reiterated his concern over the potential misuse of the SPLOST III dollars should a disaster occur there.
“There’s certainly a need for another elementary school going forward – I think everybody, including our alliance, is in support of the Fulton board bringing another school online to address overcrowding,” Ramseur said. “The real question is can we do it without overspending SPLOST and can we do it with out putting our kids in danger?”