The Dunwoody City Council approved the demolition of the former Austin Elementary School in a 6-1 vote during its Sept. 14 meeting.
The demolition will cost $279,000, according to a bid from Complete Demolition Services.
The DeKalb County School District considered keeping the old elementary school, located at 5435 Roberts Drive, to help with possible elementary school overcrowding, but dropped the issue in May 2019. The new Austin Elementary is located a half-mile away at 5321 Roberts Drive and opened in January. Mayor Lynn Deutsch said the district rejected the building because of the costly repairs.
“It is not a building that had been well-maintained or well cared for,” Deutsch said. “It needed to come down.”
The main school building, gym and former trailer pad would all be demolished under that contract, according to a city memo. Rodent removal will also be part of the demolition, according to city Parks and Recreation Director Brent Walker.
Funding for the demolition would come from leftover funds from other projects, mostly from the from the Georgetown-Perimeter Connector Trail, a 12-foot-wide multiuse path and pedestrian bridge intended to connect the east and west sides of the city. That project had extra funding because of a $200,000 donation from Perimeter Community Improvement Districts.
The elementary school site has two playgrounds which would be renovated for public use, according to the city memo. An outdoor classroom and garden on the site will also stay there along with an asphalt parking lot, Walker said.
Walker said the site will have open, grassy sports fields until the city creates a master plan for the site with public input and council approval.
Critics of the plan to demolish those buildings said the area could have been a good asset for other uses, such as more space for the neighboring Dunwoody Nature Center or other nonprofits.
Councilmember Joe Seconder voted against the demolition. He said he thought the city should have done at least one more public input meeting in case another organization might have wanted to use the building.
Council members said they tried to save some aspects of the site, but because it was in such disrepair, any renovations would have been too costly. Councilmember Jim Riticher said he remembered getting emails from parents complaining about the state of the building when it was still in use.
The city considered keeping the gym building to repurpose it, but city staff found the renovations too costly. To renovate and operate the gym for a year would cost $197,500, according to city calculations, whereas demolishing it would cost $18,000.
“It’s beyond hope,” Councilmember Pam Tallmadge said. “I really tried — we all tried — to save a part of it, the gym, the cafeteria, the basement, but it’s not feasible.”
Walker said the city had spoken with a few nonprofits about using the site, such as the Spruill Center for the Arts, but either no one had the interest or the funds to do the renovations.