Rebuilding, not just renovating, North Springs Charter High School is now the official recommendation from Fulton County Schools Superintendent Jeff Rose, a major victory for community advocates. But details remain slim and new battles are being drawn over the timeline and Rose’s concept of a smaller building.
For nearly a year, a group called Citizens for a New North Springs has pressed for Fulton Schools to give up a renovation plan and rebuild the 55-year-old school at 7447 Roswell Road in Sandy Springs. The city, which wants to spur redevelopment of northern Roswell Road, officially supports the cause as well. At a June 12 Board of Education meeting, Rose announced the district was giving up its renovation plan, broadly agreeing with the advocates and proposing a new school in an adjusted budget set to be voted on June 21.
“After much review and analysis by our staff, we recommend placing the renovation on hold,” Rose told the school board at the meeting, held at the North Learning Center in Sandy Springs. “Instead, a comprehensive, neighborhood high school replacement, aligned with the anticipated enrollment need, which is lower than what is current, is being recommended for the next capital program.”
Rose gave a rationale largely matching what CFANNS has said all along, and follows a report earlier this year that said renovations would cost millions of dollars more than budgeted.
“The replacement school aligned with community needs and is what we believe is best for North Springs,” Rose said. “It is also in the best financial interest of the community and taxpayers over the long term. In addition, we believe we can build a replacement school…and build it all at once rather than through a series of renovations, and this would be less disruptive to students and staff compared to the many renovation projects that would be needed over a series of years.”
Emphasizing that the district reached the recommendation by “our process,” Rose said the decision involved comparing short- and long-term renovation costs to replacement costs.
The district currently has about $19 million budgeted for a North Springs renovation in a capital program that runs through 2022. Rose proposes carrying out only “high-priority” items from the renovation list, such as “safety and security equipment and infrastructure needs.” The rest of the money would be reserved for a new school building, which he said would have to be authorized in the next capital program after 2022 with a new funding source, like an updated special local option sales tax.
Rose provided no details about the change in plans, such as how much of the current budget would be reserved for the new school or what the lower enrollment projections are.
“Now, I am well aware there are many more questions moving forward in the short and long term,” he said, saying the enrollment and “academic program” questions will be answered “over time” in work with the school board.
Betty Klein was among the CFANNS members who attended the meeting. “I think what he said is good news for the community and it’s obviously a great direction…,” she said, adding she is “very appreciative of what they’re doing,” But she also wants more information and details about the enrollment claim and why replacement school planning can’t start sooner.
Enrollment projections may become a key issue. CFANNS has long said that many local parents said their children to Sandy Springs’ other public high school, the newer Riverwood International Charter School, and their return alone would significantly boost enrollment. Various city consultants in recent years have projected Sandy Springs as having a growing – though also aging – population. And the city’s broad concepts for redeveloping the north end involve higher-density housing, meaning a population boost.
North Springs Principal Scott Hanson also said he looks forward to more information. “What’s the next piece?” he asked.
Jody Reichel, a CFANNS co-founder and a member of the Sandy Springs City Council, said starting the planning for a new school should start sooner.
“While it is critical that we utilize our resources to secure the safety of our school, why not use the remainder of current allocated capital funds or the millions of dollars that is currently in reserve to begin design of a new facility?” she asked in a written statement. “Waiting to start a design after another five years means no new building for possibly six to eight years.”
Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul, who previously sent Fulton Schools a personal letter supporting a new North Springs High, praised the decision and said he hopes the academic programming will include classes that allow students to gain high school and post-secondary education credits simultaneously.
“I’m glad the school system listened and responded to the desires of the community regarding the physical needs of North Springs High School,” Paul said in a written statement. “I hope this leads to implementation of the dual enrollment opportunities the state is providing for both college-bound and non-college-bound students that I and my predecessor Eva Galambos have urged them to adopt.”
–Evelyn Andrews contributed
Update: This story has been updated with comment from Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul.