Dunwoody City Council members praised a plan to swap Dunwoody Senior Baseball fields to the DeKalb schools for Austin Elementary and cash as a “win-win” after they agreed to the exchange during a special meeting Oct. 5.
“We ended up with park land and money,” said Councilmember Doug Thompson. “You just can’t beat that.”
Through the proposed swap, the DeKalb County school board will use the ballfields as the site of a new school building and will pay the city $3.6 million, which it can use to develop new ballfields at Peachtree Charter Middle School, according to the deal set to be voted on by the council next month.
The council met in executive session Oct. 5 for about 20 minutes. When council members emerged from the closed-door meeting, Mayor Denis Shortal announced the city had signed a letter of intent with the school district to do the deal. The school board signed the same letter of intent on Oct. 3.
Thompson said negotiations between the school board and the city have been years in the making and he believes the one being considered now is good for all involved.
“We know Dunwoody Senior Baseball has been tough on us,” he said. “I’m a youth sports guy. I would not have done anything to hurt the program. We’re getting $3.6 million from the [school board] and we can get some nice fields.”
As part of the proposed land swap deal, the school district will pay the city $3.6 million and give eventual control of the current Austin Elementary School property on Roberts Drive to the city. In exchange, the city will give the Dunwoody Senior Baseball fields in Dunwoody Park, just down the road from Austin Elementary, also on Roberts Drive, to the school district to be used for a new 900-seat Austin Elementary School.
Plans for what the city will do with the old Austin Elementary School site have not been made and council members said the community will have say into what goes into the area, including the possibility of a park.
“The current site of Austin will become a city park someday. What does the city want? What are the needs of that corner? There is a great amount of need for this,” Councilmember John Heneghan said.
The city will use the $3.6 million to build two new baseball fields at Peachtree Middle School to include lighting, a concession stand and 34 additional parking spaces, according to the agreement. The city will also use the money to make capital improvements to the PCMS football field and track area, including irrigation improvements, in exchange for a 25-year agreement for use of the fields for city-sponsored athletics, when not in use by the school.
The roughly two-year timeline for the entire process allows the new baseball fields to be constructed first, so Dunwoody Senior Baseball can make the transition to using them. Construction on the new Austin Elementary would then begin, with plans to open the new school in August 2018.
Shortal stressed that the signing of the letter of intent with the school board on Oct. 5 was not the final action required by the deal. There will be two community meetings at City Hall on Oct. 17 and Oct. 25 at 6 p.m., with a final vote slated to go to the council on Nov. 14.
“We have about six weeks to look at this, to vet this,” he said. “We are the folks you elected and I’ve urged council to be open to public input.”
Dunwoody Senior Baseball supporters have opposed the move to PCMC, saying traffic and other issues would hamper league play. DSB President Jerry Weiner said the league is seeking ways to be supportive of the plan and is searching for options, including the possibility of building two new baseball fields at Brook Run Park.
“DSB recognizes there are some good things for the city and clearly we would love to stay at Dunwoody Park,” he said. “But we’re looking at options, including the 2010 Parks Master Plan that had the fields built at Brook Run Park.”
Councilmember Lynn Deutsch also praised the deal’s guarantee of more parkland for the city. She also said the city was going “above and beyond” in being transparent about the real estate swap, noting that the city of Brookhaven recently entered into a similar park land swap with the school district with no public input.
“We are starting month-long process,” she said. “This is not a bad deal. And this just the beginning of the process. We are open to input.”
Councilmember Terry Nall expressed some displeasure with the deal, saying there would be no issues had the county built the new school where the current one is located. Nall said that state Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) had worked out a deal with the prior school superintendent, Michael Thurmond, to do just that. However, no formal agreement was ever made to do so, said DeKalb schools spokesperson Quinn Hudson.
Nall also said the overall deal was a good one.
“Schools make our community and our job is to protect our community. This is a net gain for the city,” he said.
Thompson said he understood that moving DSB moving to new baseball fields after some 40 years at Dunwoody Park will be difficult.
“The new fields will be better, but they will be different,” he said. “We’ve bought ourselves a month. We’ll hear you out.”
Shortal blasted the DeKalb County School District and said he would be “dancing in the streets” when the city is able to take over the schools, adding the school board is “totally inadequate.”
“It is unbelievable to me the school board cannot build decent facilities for our schools,” he said.
The Dunwoody Homeowners Association board voted to support the deal at its Oct. 9 meeting.
The new school is being funded with taxes raised when voters approved a 2011 E-Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.