Dunwoody’s old Austin Elementary School, which was expected to close once a new, 900-seat version debuts next year, may remain open as DeKalb Schools searches for ways to alleviate overcrowding. Doing so would mean extending a lease agreement between the city and the school district, but officials are being tight-lipped about their discussions.
The city currently owns the old school at 5345 Roberts Drive, originally built in 1975, as part of a 2016 land swap deal with DeKalb Schools. The agreement included trading the former Dunwoody Senior Baseball fields for the property and $3.6 million. DeKalb Schools is building the new school on the site of the former baseball fields. The city has not finalized what it wants to do with the old school property once it is vacated, but talks have generally focused on creating a park space.
As part of the 2016 agreement, the city agreed to lease the old school to DeKalb Schools for $63,100 a month so classes could continue as the new school is being constructed. The lease was expected to end once the new school opened in 2020.
But the Dunwoody cluster has been overcrowded for years and students are learning in portable classrooms, or trailers, upsetting parents and residents. DeKalb Schools says extending its lease with the city is one possibility to relieve overcrowding.
“DeKalb County School District and the city of Dunwoody are currently in discussions in their respective executive sessions, since the matter concerning the current Austin Elementary campus is a real estate matter, and the district cannot comment at this point,” DeKalb Schools said in a written statement.
DeKalb Schools said it is one of several options being considered.
“After the new Austin Elementary campus is opened in Fall 2020 with the new 900-seat increased capacity, the six elementary schools in the Dunwoody cluster (combined) will be more than 500 seats (collectively) over capacity,” according to the statement. “The potential lease-back of the current Austin Elementary campus is one of a few options we are reviewing for the elementary schools’ overcrowding in the Dunwoody cluster.”
Dunwoody City Manager Eric Linton would only say in a written statement that “the city of Dunwoody is evaluating all options and working toward the best solution for our community.”
Some parents are unhappy that such talks are happening and spoke out at the April 22 City Council meeting, urging the council to not extend its lease with DeKalb Schools. They described the building as being dilapidated and unsafe. The school district denies any of its schools are unsafe for students.
Having two Austin Elementary Schools could also lower morale among students, according to one parent, who said students at the old school would feel like they were not at the “real” school.