After recommendations for North Springs Charter High School renovations came in millions over budget, the district said it will cut them back to reduce costs. The announcement prompted advocates to ask why the district is not heeding all the consultants’ recommendations.
Consultants with architecture firm CDH Partners recommended in a draft report that North Springs High receive $32 million in renovations, exceeding the district’s budget of $19 million, according to a statement made by Superintendent Jeff Rose at the April 12 school board meeting, as seen in a video of the meeting. The district will make changes to reduce the cost, Rose said at the meeting.
“This design is a work in progress. As always, to be fiscally responsible to all taxpayers in Fulton County, we are exploring ways to manage costs through additional design solutions. Once the concepts are final, and cost estimates are complete, our staff will be able to evaluate options and present a recommendation to the Board of Education in June,” Rose said in a later statement.
The district’s Capital Plan 2022, funded by the E-SPLOST, includes a major renovation and addition at North Springs. The project addresses deficiencies at the school in areas like fine arts, labs, performing arts, music, physical education and parking, according to the statement.
The draft report was not presented at the meeting and has not been released. An open records request for the document was estimated to take two weeks to fulfill.
The original plan was to present preliminary designs in June, but at the request of the school board, the architects accelerated their work and completed a draft report and initial concept in April, according to a press release about the draft report.
Betty Klein, a member of Citizens for a New North Springs, said in a public statement at the meeting that she doesn’t understand why the district wouldn’t try to use all the recommendations, according to the video. CFANNS has been advocating for a new school because they don’t believe renovations will solve all of the schools’ problems.
“I cannot tell you how disappointed I am to hear that statement from you,” Klein said. “Why would you reduce what they tell you we need?”
Julie Abes, the co-president of Spartan Nation, the school’s PTO, said she is disappointed the recommendations will be cut back.
“Nineteen million dollars barely cuts the surface of what needs to be done,” Abes said.
Julia Bernath, the school board member for the area, directed questions to the board president and press office.
The community engagement process for the school improvements was completed in March after months of public meetings and interviews with students and school faculty.
The engagement process got off to a rocky start due to miscommunication about what the first meeting would discuss. Residents attending the meeting believed the meeting would discuss the possibility of building a new school, but instead it was meant to be a “visioning” meeting about what type of school the community wants to have.
After they got past the initial confusion, Klein said CFANNS supported the engagement process and thought it was useful.
“Once we understood the process, we were all on board,” Klein said.
CFANNS now doesn’t understand why the district would not keep all the consultants’ recommendations that they determined are needed through the engagement process, Klein said.
CFANNS has also not seen the report, and Klein said, in an interview, they wish the district would have been more transparent throughout the process. She would like for the community and teachers at the school to also be able to see the report.
“For them to be the final judge and jury on it makes no sense. If we could see, at least we would be able to put our comments in,” she said.
Although CFANNS will push for improvements it feels are vital, getting a completely new school is still the main goal, said Sandy Springs City Council member Jody Reichel, who is also a member of CFANNS, in an interview. When asked what improvements if left out of the recommendations would be deal breakers, Reichel said anything less than a new school would be a problem.
“Any investment that isn’t a new school is a deal breaker,” Reichel said. “We organized CFANNS for the purpose of replacing the building where [North Springs] is currently housed. Anything short of that is not acceptable to our organization.”
The district has said that an expansion and renovation is what was approved by voters in the E-SPLOST referendum and that is what the district is legally bound to do.
CFANNS argues that not building a new school is a waste of taxpayer money because all the improvements cannot be made with the current budget, leading to building a new school or making more renovations in the near future.
“We’re not asking them to build a Taj Mahal,” Klein said. “We have been a team player. We’re not asking for anything glorious.”
This article has been updated with further comment and clarification from Councilmember Jody Reichel on CFANNS’ position.