The Dunwoody City Council voted unanimously Nov. 14 to enter into an agreement to swap Dunwoody Senior Baseball fields to the DeKalb schools for Austin Elementary and $3.6 million in cash.
The vote was the culmination of nearly a year of negotiations between the city and the DeKalb County School District to find a place to build a new Austin Elementary School to help ease the overcrowding in the district.
Laurel Butler brought her two young boys with her to ask the council to vote in favor of the deal because, she said, the current Austin Elementary School is unsafe.
“We live in the Austin school zone … and we are also a baseball family,” she said. “My fourth grader is learning in trailers with no bathrooms. In the event of a tornado, students have to be shuffled [from trailers] into the school building. The school is not a safe place for our children.
Her sons are young and play baseball at Morgan Falls in Sandy Springs, she said, but they will play in Dunwoody when the enter middle school.
Dunwoody Senior Baseball supports were urging the City Council to build the baseball fields in the back area of Brook Run Park, but doing so would delay the timeline that is in play that promises no interruption of league play and will have a new Austin school open in 2019. “
No matter where the fields are, we will be there,” Butler said. “But the education of our children comes first. Do not delay building the school … over baseball fields.”
As part of the agreement, the city will construct two new baseball fields on about 8 acres of property at Peachtree Charter Middle School that will be used by the school and Dunwoody Senior Baseball league that mostly serves middle school boys.
The school district will then build a new 900-seat Austin Elementary where the current baseball fields are located, in Dunwoody Park and adjacent to the Dunwoody Nature Center. The city will then get the property where the current Austin Elementary is located to rebuild into a park space
Councilmember Lynn Deutsch said she understood not everyone was going to be happy with the agreement between DeKalb schools and the city, but she said “this is a good deal … and a multigenerational solution.”
She praised the deal in building a new Austin school just a short distance from its current site and that the deal allows students to stay in the school while the new one is being built rather than being shipped to different locations.
“Education tops everything,” she said. “We are going to have baseball in Dunwoody, period. The Dunwoody Nature Center will benefit with more parking on the weekends … and they will have a stronger relationship with a neighborhood school.”
Peachtree Charter Middle School, whose governing body opposed the deal because it did not want to lose green space to baseball fields, will benefit the most, Deutsch said. As part of the deal, the city will take over maintenance and repairs of the new baseball fields as well as the school’s multi-use rectangular field and track area.
“Right now, the Peachtree soccer team cannot have home games because they do not have a safe playing field. Now we will be able to offer them that,” Deutsch said.
The city is also updating its parks master plan and multi-use fields in Brook Run Park are already a top consideration by many in the community.
“The next step is the parks master plan and the back 30 acres of Brook Run Park are for athletic fields if that’s what the community wants,” said Councilmember John Heneghan.
Councilmember Terry Nall expressed disappointment the school district would not build a new Austin Elementary where it is currently located, but said this was a compromise plan that results in the city gaining more than 7 acres of park land where Austin Elementary is now located.
Councilmember Jim Riticher said there was no room for further compromise and delay and Councilmember Doug Thompson summed up his thoughts by saying, “This one we got right.”
Most of those attending applauded the council’s vote to approve the deal and shouted, “thank yous” to the members.
Dunwoody Senior Baseball board member John Crawford stayed for the more than 4-hour meeting to thank the City Council for its support during a difficult time and that the league is ready to work with the city and county.
“I know you guys struggled. We appreciate your work. We are ready to move forward and build a sports complex that Dunwoody will be proud of,” he said.