Brookhaven officials are courting the DeKalb County School District with financial incentives in an attempt to change its mind on moving the new Cross Keys High School out of the city. At least once school board member remains hopeful it will do so.
Mayor John Ernst, City Manager Christian Sigman and City Councilmember Joe Gebbia met last week with Supt. Stephen Green and members of his staff. At the meeting the city officials presented several financial incentives to try to lure school officials to build the new high school on Buford Highway rather than building it across I-85 in unincorporated DeKalb County.
The school board voted 4-3 last month to build the new Cross Keys High School at the former Briarcliff High School site. City leaders are trying to find ways to keep the school in Brookhaven.
“We consider the high school a critical component of our identity as a city,” Gebbia said.
While the meeting was positive, Gebbia said he is doubtful minds were changed. “It’s probably a done deal,” he said.
Supt. Green has presented the proposals to Board of Education Chair Michael Irwin, according to a district spokesperson.
“DCSD supports its partnership with the city of Brookhaven over the past few years, including the acquisition and development of the new John Lewis Elementary School in conjunction with their new Skyland Park project as well as multiple improvements by the city and the school district for Ashford Park Elementary School,” the district said in a prepared statement.
“As part of city’s formal request for the Board of Education to reconsider its decision for the location of the new Cross Keys High School at the former Briarcliff High School site, on Monday, May 7, the city manager and elected Brookhaven officials presented innovative funding concepts and ideas to the superintendent and staff on how the city could provide funding and community assistance to the school district as part of their request for locating the new Cross Keys High School along the Buford Highway corridor,” according to the statement.
“Dr. Green was appreciative of their presentation and reminded the officials that the ask would be to the Board members since they had already voted on the new site.”
School board member Marshall Orson, who represents Cross Keys, said he knew about the meeting but had not been briefed on it.
“We heard from a number of constituents who expressed concerns about the site selection,” he said.
He doesn’t know yet if the board will discuss the options proposed by Brookhaven officials at a future meeting or vote on reversing the decision, but a reversal is still possible, he added.
“While the board has made a decision, we haven’t stuck a shovel in the ground,” Orson said. “If there are any attractive opportunities, I would hope we would be open to them.”
Gebbia said Brookhaven’s proposals include an offer to purchase from the school district undeveloped land past Gail Drive and adjacent to Woodward Elementary School. The city would then keep the land a green space, Gebbia said.
Last year the city purchased a 1.3-acre vacant lot at the end of Gail Drive and abutting Woodward Elementary for $200,000 with the intention of working with DeKalb Schools in creating a park area.
The city is also offering financial assistance to displaced families should the school district buy an apartment complex on Buford Highway. The complex would have to be razed to make way for the new high school.
The school district did consider several apartment complex sites on Buford Highway for the new Cross Keys High School and drew up several site plans, but determined purchasing a new site would have also been more expensive, costing $19 million to $38 million more than using the Briarcliff site. District officials said purchase costs for the candidate sites ranged from $36 million to $54 million.
The former Briarcliff High site, which would be sold by the district if it had decided to buy a different property, was appraised at $21 million. The Adams Stadium and parking are not included in that appraisal.
Gebbia said the city’s offer to purchase the undeveloped school property adjacent to Woodward Elementary would help cover the $19 million to $38 million overrun to buy new property.
The school district also determined buying an apartment complex would displace between 265 and 523 students.
To address this issue, Gebbia said the city is offering to work with apartment complexes and the Latin American Association to help relocate families over a six-month period, including providing financial assistance to those families.
“We were prepared to be really aggressive … to minimize the impact of displacement,” Gebbia said. “The city would help relocate because we are very sensitive to that.”
Gebbia said the city is also willing to abandon Bramblewood Drive, a public road, to the school district at no cost should it purchase that property. There are currently some 30 single-family homes along Bramblewood Drive off Buford Highway and adjacent to the current Cross Keys High School. The city’s offer includes building a connection from Curtis Drive to N. Cliff Valley Way.
Ardent Companies currently has the 30 houses under contract and is currently asking the city to rezone the 17-acres on Bramblewood Drive for a proposed townhome development. The Planning Commission recommended approval of the rezoning request. Ardent Companies asked the City Council for a deferral last month.
Gebbia added that Ardent Companies was prepared to work with DeKalb Schools on the purchase of the Bramblewood Drive property as well.
The city also said it considered the Bramblewood Drive property as a potential site for its future public safety headquarters but announced instead it would be located along the Peachtree Creek Greenway.
The school district has allocated nearly $85 million in ESPLOST funding for the new 2,500-seat school. It is needed to alleviate overcrowding at the current Cross Keys High, which is located at 1626 North Druid Hills Road.
The Briarcliff site, a 26-acre property the district still owns, is located less than two miles south of Cross Keys High at 2415 North Druid Hills Road.
The meeting between city and school officials follows the City Council’s resolution asking the school board to reconsider its decision to locate the new Cross Keys High School in unincorporated DeKalb County.
“There was a breakdown in communication … and we were blindsided” by the school board’s decision to build on the Briarcliff site, Gebbia said.
Moving the high school “across the highway” and away from Buford Highway is going to be an issue for for many students, Gebbia said.
The location is too far for many students and is outside of Cross Keys’ current attendance zone, he said. Because the school is in an area with a historically high Hispanic and immigrant population, there are additional challenges with transportation, Gebbia said.
There will also be traffic issues at the Briarcliff site with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta constructing its massive new hospital complex on North Druid Hills Road and Emory University plans redevelopment of Executive Park, he added.
But the Cross Keys cluster has long needed a new high school, Gebbia said, and the city welcomes the current Cross Keys High School being redeveloped into a needed new middle school.
“This is all good for the kids,” he said. “Is it the best? No.”
Gebbia did praise the school district for making “difficult decisions” to try to alleviate the overcrowding issue that has plagued Cross Keys for many years. “They are making the difficult decisions other administrations failed to address,” he said.
Evelyn Andrews contributed.
This story has been updated with a statement from the DeKalb County School District.