Brookhaven Innovation Academy, a state charter school founded by the city, is planning to make its permanent home in Chamblee and likely will drop the word “Brookhaven” from its name.
BIA board members announced Sept. 27 at a community event at Oglethorpe University that the charter school has contracted to buy 2.5 acres at 3031 Shallowford Road. Plans are to build a K-8 school on the site and open it no later than August 2019.
BIA is still going through due diligence on the property, but board member Adam Caskey said the board wanted to let parents know about the plans early in the process.
“We committed to open and honest communication on this issue,” he said. “We understand the emotion involved.”
The news was greeted by applause from the crowd.
Total cost of the property is $1.375 million, Caskey said, but only $500,000 is needed by Nov. 6 as a down payment.
A fundraiser started in July has already raised $150,000 and a metro Atlanta foundation has agreed to a matching grant of $175,000, meaning families need to raise $175,000 by the Nov. 6 deadline, board members said. Board members would not name the foundation making the matching grant.
The property is located between I-85 and Buford Highway and adjacent to the 6-acre Dynamo Swim Center. DeKalb tax records show the property is zoned for office or institutional development.
Changing the name of the school is likely. Board Chair Jennifer Langley said she has registered The Innovation Academy with the state and the board will soon vote on the potential name change.
Caskey praised the city of Chamblee for helping BIA in the process of finding land and working with the board to bring the school to the city that neighbors Brookhaven. “Frankly I’ve been blown away by the city leadership and its vision for the future,” he said.
Chamblee City Councilmember Tom Hogan was on hand at the Sept. 27 event to welcome the school. “We couldn’t be more excited for the school to come to a part of town that needs it,” he said. “Welcome to Chamblee.”
In a later interview, Hogan said the city is not providing any tax incentives to BIA and that tax incentives were never discussed. He said after BIA board members reached out to the city’s economic development director, there were several “roundtable” conversations about what the city could do to help the school. In the end, though, it was the BIA board that found and negotiated for the property, he said.
A major incentive for BIA to locate in Chamblee, Hogan said, was the city’s recent purchase of 16.5 acres of the former Jim Hearn golf center property on Buford Highway that the city will maintain as a green space.
He also praised the working relationship BIA has established with the Dynamo Swim Center, where early plans show the two facilities sharing parking.
Brookhaven Councilmember Bates Mattison, who was chair of the BIA’s board when it was approved by the State Charter Schools Commission in 2015 and served for a time as its executive director, said he was happy for BIA and the city of Chamblee.
“This is a huge step in [BIA’s] journey … and I’m also very happy for the city of Chamblee and the citizens in the area who will benefit from the great school the city of Brookhaven created,” he said in an interview after the meeting.
An outside lawyer cleared Mattison to be able work for BIA and serve on the council, but he later resigned the post.
Mattison said he hopes the city of Brookhaven “sees this as a missed opportunity, but learns the value of a charter school and how it can transform an area.” He said he is now serving on a board with an organization trying to bring a similar charter school to Doraville.
He said changing the school’s name would be a “horrible idea.”
“A name has tremendous value and the origins of the idea were created by the city of Brookhaven. The name is irrelevant,” he said. “But even me, who has tremendous passion and put blood, sweat and tears into the school should not be focused on the name. It’s never been about the name — it’s about the mission of the school.”
Councilmember Joe Gebbia, who also helped found BIA, said he was pleased the charter school had found a permanent home, even if it was not in Brookhaven.
“The name is in jeopardy, which is a shame because of the city’s ties,” he said. “After we did the initial funding, we divorced ourselves from the school. I wish the school the best.”
BIA opened last year in Norcross after not finding property in Brookhaven.