Thurmond publicly contradicts construction COO

Hmmm. Interesting… Below are excerpts from a post in the Dunwoody Crier:

A decision by a DeKalb County school official to renege on an agreement with Dunwoody voters to rebuild Austin Elementary School on its current site on Roberts Drive may have been rescinded.

Stephen M. Wilkins, chief operating officer of the system wrote a Dunwoody resident last week in response to a question about where the school was to be placed.

“You are correct that the new Austin Elementary School will not be built on the current school site.” Wilkins replied. “our architectural/engineering study confirms that powerlines and piping on the current property restrict and/or prohibit the construction requirements for the new school.”

Wilkins added that the staff would use the next year to review and develop options for placing the new school.

And then there’s Thurmond’s response:

“The only people who can make a decision on a matter like this are members of the DeKalb County board of education,” he said in an interview. “The board has had no such discussion, but we will bring it up tonight for that.” Thurmond insisted Austin will be re-built where it is. “We have one prototype for new schools in the county,” he said, “but that prototype can be modified. We will be looking at several options that will allow us to build on the Austin site.” …

When asked if the DeKalb board would change its position on Austin, Thurmond said, “Absolutely not.”

Read the entire post here>> DeKalb to renege on Austin school site?

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38 Responses to Thurmond publicly contradicts construction COO

  1. midvaledad says:

    This brings up so many questions.

    How does Mr. Wilkins decide who to respond to? I have sent him at least 5 emails in the last 8 months that have gone unanswered.
    How did the Dunwoody resident know there are site issues? I can only guess that it was either Janie Kosak or Casey Daniel who are on the Elementary School Prototype Community Input Committee.
    Why would the residents of Dunwoody believe a “promise” from anyone from the Central Palace? That is foolhardy in the extreme.
    How did Janie or Casey know about the architectural/engineering study? I spoke with another of the committee members last week who told me those studies aren’t done yet.
    What was said at the BOE meeting? Stan, “Fact Checker” Jester, can you help us out there?

    Now the part I hate to do, INTERIM Superintendent Thurmond did not contradict Mr. Wilkins. He only pointed out the BOE needs to vote on changes to SPLOST IV projects or sequence. Until they do, the plan is to build at the Austin Elementary site. His insistence that the prototype can be modified to fit the site is pure B.S. because he obviously hadn’t spoken to Wilkins about it before he answered. To insist the BOE would “absolutely not” change the location was just bad. Stan, I hope you saved that one. It may come back to haunt him.

    What an ego.
    What an ass.

    This is the new page for the Elementary School Prototype Design. It was put up around June 28th.

  2. AParent says:

    Honestly, who cares if the school is built on that site or a few miles away? It should be built in the location where it can most efficiently serve the needs of the students and the public. If maintaining the current site requires a bunch of expensive modifications, by all means move it somewhere more cost-effective. The SPLOST election did not stipulate anything about the the tax being contingent on Austin remaining where it is forever, and the taxpayers of this county should not be footing the bill for anything beyond the basic cost of building a 900-seat school somewhere in that school zone.

  3. This is why Nancy Jester tried to eliminate the language of the SPLOST referendum specific to Austin. She wanted it to simply say “an elementary school in Dunwoody”… but she was shot down by the rest of the Board.

  4. Kathleen says:

    If you read the meeting minutes ( it states, “Bob Sussenbach of CGLS Architects, Inc. presented the Conceptual Site Plan for each of the seven proposed sites. One site, Austin, has been determined to be unbuildable due to the presence of high power lines and an underground petroleum gas line and the GADOE rules
    regarding these.”

  5. AParent says:

    Yes, but as long as they rebuild it, they are within the SPLOST language. The SPLOST language doesn’t require them to rebuild it on the existing site. Why does it matter if it is there or somewhere down the road? I understand change is scary, and relocating the school a few miles away may make things slightly less convenient for some of the people (while also making things slightly more convenient for others) but this is a public school system. DCSS cannot cater to one neighborhood. Decisions have to be made based on what is the best use of limited tax moneys.

  6. bettyandveronica1 says:

    We care because they will have to purchase land. Just ask the residents of the new high school in Fulton county. Before the first brick was placed, they spent $56million for the land, then they have to build it. We do not need to be buying land. Way too expensive!

  7. Refugee from DCSS says:

    @AParent:: a few miles WHERE? Have you been to Dunwoody lately? Have you seen any 10+ acre lots just sitting around waiting for a school to be built in Austin’s area of town?
    A tip for you – appropriately sized school lots don’t exist in that area of Dunwoody and therein is the problem. The point of Nancy’s attempted language edit was the ability to close Austin and open a new school if that was what best served the needs of the area. I truely believe that the rest of the school board wanted to make this upgrade as difficult as possible so they stipulated “Austin”. The only large areas that could have been redeveloped are on the south side of town and won’t serve Austin’s north-side community. That’s why Nancy’s edit was necessary and is proof positive DCSS deosn’t care what Dunwoody needs. As long as they can get away with the minimum. That explains why Dunwoody Elementary was built so close to Vanderlyn – cheap available land in a trade and who cares about how much trouble the redistricting is? As long as Dunwoody shuts up and pays out, DCSS is happy.

  8. Again, read one of our old blog posts – it contains the exact language of the referendum… It’s not that we’re being picky – it’s that you can’t legally change what voters said yes to.

    Sunday, October 9, 2011
    SPLOST IV: The Referendum Just About Covers it All

    (9) (7) Design, construction, renovation, modification, additions to and equipping of replacement elementary buildings and facilities for Austin, Fernbank, Gresham Park, Pleasantdale, Peachcrest, Rockbridge and Smoke Rise Elementary Schools, including the acquisition of land and the demolition of all or portions of existing structures, if necessary;

    If you ask us, the way this reads, Dunwoody “could” actually renovate Austin as it is, then buy some land somewhere else, and build an additional (new) school on it, and call it “Austin Satellite” or “Austin II” or something and not really defy the language. It doesn’t specifically say the school has to completely exist on one continuous piece of land … hmmmm.

    How about building an “Austin at Town Square” and using some office building space over in the mall area?

  9. AParent says:

    Of course there is land available. Just recently there was talk about building some sort of large sports complex over by Perimeter Mall. That is within the Austin school zone. And yes, land may have to be purchased, but that is what the SPLOST $$ was voted for, and it can be offset by the sale of the old site (or swapped, as in the case of Dunwooody ES).

    The Fulton County situation is apples and oranges, since high school requires a lot more land than an elementary school, particularly in Fulton where they provide high schools with their own stadiums (unlike Dekalb).

  10. AParent says:

    Yes, but the language of the SPLOSt doesn’t say it has to be on the same site. It just says it has to be a replacement for Austin. It expressly provides for the acquisition of land if necessary.

  11. Either way, it’s deceptive if it was misleading to the majority of those being asked to vote on it. Not that anyone pays that close of attention to anything they vote on anyway, right?

  12. @Cell: They definitely pay attention to what they vote on in Dunwoody.

  13. AParent says:

    Renovating Austin and building a “satellite Austin” sounds majorly cost-inefficient. How on earth would that ever be a good idea? The whole idea is to have larger and more efficient elementary schools. Austin is a small school that (according to the county’s earlier site assessment) cannot be retrofitted to accommodate the way the state currently funds schools. It needs to be scraped and rebuilt, either at the current site (if that can be done at a reasonable cost to taxpayers) or elsewhere.

    Yes, we understand that the northwestern tip of Dekalb loves their small neighborhood school. So do lots of communities around Dekalb. But that is not the way the state funds schools anymore. So, Dunwoodians, if you want small neighborhood schools like Austin, go talk to your neighbor, Fran Millar, about increasing state funding for small neighborhood schools. In the meantime, DCSS has to move forward in a way that allows us to capture the maximum amount of state educational dollars and that is by having 900-student elementary schools. That is how it is done in Fulton, Gwinnett, and the other systems that we love to compare DCSS to. They build 900 seat elementary schools. They do not renovate tiny neighborhood schools and then build “satellite campuses” several miles away in order to appease a few neighborhoods. What an absurd idea.

  14. Please don’t be so upset over my wild comments… I was just pointing out the various ways the referendum could be interpreted – to the extreme ‘outside the box’. That was simply a blogger’s random comment – NOT a plan from anyone in Dunwoody… People aren’t trying to do anything about Austin – the architects have said it is not feasible to use the site. Guess we’ll have to spend millions on a new site – and then build a new school… Conversely – did you notice that the Smokerise rebuild is only planned for a capacity of 600? Why no outcry?

  15. Refugee from DCSS says:

    @AParent: you are very confused. The cry for small neighborhood schools is coming from the south end of the county where schools have to be consolidated because there are so many of them and enrollment cannot justify their cost. Dunwoody wants enough schools to meet the growing demand without jumbling all of the elementary school buildings together in one locus within the city so that districting becomes nearly impossible. Clearly you don’t know anything about Dunwoody, except whatever rumors circulate south of Decatur.

    Austin elementary school was a failed experiment in “open classroom design” that cannot accommodate the increaesd enrollment. Pat Pope, Lewis, and the crew put Dunwoody Elementary right down the block from Vanderlyn, which made districting a nightmare. The one school built in Dunwoody recently didn’t take into account actual population numbers, projected growth, or other measurable factors. Add to that the classrooms and construction didn’t even meet DCSS standards!

    Now they want to rebuild Austin on a site that is not suited for a 900-seat school or on another site that doesn’t exist, or possibly on a site that would require students to cross three other schools to attend and would put all of these schools in very close proximity. The argument about land in the PCID does not make sense. There was talk about a sports complex but it was only brainstorming. There was not and is not now a “plan” of any kind. And we’re not talking about “land” we’re talking about refurbishing warehouse-type buildings in a major commercial area.

    You’re obviously not from Dunwoody. Don’t presume to tell that city what to do.

  16. True points, refugee. Dunwoody is a mess. You get off I-285 and take a right and pass Chesnut Elementary, then drive a few more yards and you’re in front of Peachtree Middle. Turn the corner and you’re tangled up in Georgia Perimeter College. Turn the next corner to round the block, and just past GPC is the new Dunwoody Elementary. Drive a few more blocks and voila! Dunwoody High School! Turn right and into the neighborhood behind the high school and there’s Vanderlyn – which is a major trailer village…

    If you don’t have to, don’t ever get mixed up in that traffic in the morning… I had to go to GPC one morning and it was a nightmare. These are all residential streets with very long, out of sync traffic lights. It’s horrible.

  17. Stan Jester says:

    Projected Enrollment And Capacity Numbers

    Click to access dcss2016-2017schoolorganization.pdf

    Of the schools listed below, Fernbank is the only one getting relief. Nice to be at Fernbank.

    School Utilization
    School……………….SY 2013…..SY 2017
    Fernbank ES…………..117%………84%
    Vanderlyn ES………….145%…….155%
    Dresden ES……………126%…….125%
    Ashford Park ES….…..124%…….136%
    Cary Reynolds ES….…124%…….127%
    Woodward ES…………124%…….127%
    Dunwoody HS…………122%…….143%

    Austin ES will be 99% utilized on the day it opens. Ashford Park ES had to pass the hat around and pay for their own renovations. At the last board meeting, the board accepted over $100K in donations from the Ashford Park community. Truly a tragedy that it came to that.


  18. bettyandveronica1 says:

    I would like to know where the land that abandoned warehouses is sitting? I am familiar with the area as a long time Atlanta resident and I don’t know of any unused space. Any unused space gets a new subdivision stuck on it. I just google earthed the area and looks to me like its all pretty eat up with houses. They could push back on the property but that would put them right under a power line field and have to do some major land renovation. Now, I did see plenty of green space around the ballpark and Dunwoody Nature center, but that is about it. Where is there any land that is sitting idle, even with an old warehouse? The only land I know of is at Chamblee-Dun/Peeler/Shallowford in the old school there.

  19. AParent says:

    Betty: I think the warehouse area being referred to is the area where the sports complex was proposed to go, which is not really that close to Austin. It is over by Perimeter Mall, in between the Mall and 285. I don’t think anyone is really talking about putting Austin there. It is just an example of how there is land available in the Austin school district. But yes, you are correct that there is not a large contiguous piece of undeveloped land near the current location of the Austin school. However the Austin school district is large and goes all the way to the Perimeter Mall to the south and to the Fulton County border to the west, so I am sure a piece of land can be found.

    And in any event, the school lines are to be redrawn in a few years anyway so really, the school could be put anywhere in the Dunwoody area.

  20. concerned citizen says:

    What bothers me is Thurmond’s approach- so defensive – “absolutely not!” He’s going to end up eating crow, not that I care what he has to eat! He’s obnoxious. When will we be rid of him?

  21. Dunwoody Talk Blog has a good post on the subject:

    Austin Elementary Has To Move, DeKalb Nixes Current Site

    He asks the question, could it be that the project is in limbo until after the legislature passes an independent school bill? Could DCSS be withholding Dunwoody’s SPLOST funds on the chance that they might form their own system? It’s not out of the question – the county certainly did that with the park bond money…

  22. what a sham says:

    Smoke Rise is only 600 because of the site and need for a septic tank. There is no outcry for a larger school because it currently only has about 470 students. The only way it will even hit 600 is with the closing or redistricting of either Brocket, Midvale or Livsey. There is very little student growth in the immediate neighborhoods. There is no new construction of apartments on the horizon. If for some reason DCSD wanted to go to 900 and a full size school they could look 1 mile down the street to a 90 acre parcel that Sears has had on the market for about 8 years.

  23. Edugator says:

    Strange ideas from a random blogger.

    1. Squeeze a building on the existing site.
    2. Buy a few houses from the neighboring subdivision to provide room for expansion of the existing site. Or buy the church next door on the other side of the power lines and move some operations there.
    3. Build a new Austin at the site of the Dunwoody Park baseball fields. Move the ball fields to Brook Run Park. Turn the old Austin into more park space.
    4. Turn the Dunwoody Library back into a school site. Move the library to Austin.
    5. Move Austin to the Shallowford site so we can have four elementary schools within a couple miles on each other, inconvenient for almost everyone.

    So many fine options!

  24. bettyandveronica1 says:

    Patch plan is good.

  25. bettyandveronica1 says:

    Sorry I meant Dunwoody talk blog.

  26. AParent says:

    “Don’t presume to tell that city what to do.”

    Actually the city of Dunwoody isn’t really making the calls here. DCSS is.

  27. midvaledad says:

    Here is the link to the site schematics. Austin Elementary is #6.

    Click to access viewer

  28. midvaledad says:

    I find it laughable nobody in the facilities department thought about the power lines or the oil pipeline when replacing Austin Elementary was put on the SPLOST IV list.

  29. Kim says:

    Thank you, Stan, for the re-publishing the school utilization figures above. Readers will note that four of the six ESes you reference are Cross Keys feeders (well, APES is a former feeder). This is just part of the SPLOST IV story for Cross Keys attendance area which is assured continued “limbo” for our Doraville, Chamblee, and Brookhaven area schools which are among the most overcrowded in the County.

    Worse still, the Board(s) of DCSD/S have been irresponsible with our capital investments for a couple of decades and SPLOST IV assured that there would be no material change for our area schools for 7-10 years longer.

    Thurmond has repeatedly encouraged constituents to follow the money, not the talk. We have been. It leads everywhere except our cluster. Cross Keys attendance remains an after-thought in all strategic planning through SPLOST IV. It’ll be telling what the current round of strategic planning produces given the political feudalism that seems to be dominating our surrounding areas priorities.

    While I am clearly a biased CK “booster,” my frustration extends to the entire County and the unnecessary burden we all face as taxpayers – a burden born of the unholy coupling of neighborhood politics and Board shenanigans.

    Regarding the Ashford Park ES vote – it was approval to accept private funds to support a plan for an outdoor classroom/amphitheater. The funds have to be raised. If you would like to support this worthy (why is it necessary?!!) endeavor, see:

  30. Kim says:

    To be sure not to inflame passions, my comment, “why is it necessary?!!,” above intends to communicate my frustration that parent groups are having to raise capital to provide facilities when so much capital flows through the system … ugh!

  31. hello says:

    @Kim. Agreed. It is absurd what DCSS spends their money on while schools go without. It is not just Cross Keys cluster. All of the older schools that are not lucky enough to be slated for rebuild have to come up with their own $$ to get anything done.

  32. midvaledad says:

    Interesting how the Master Plan presented by Ramona Tyson’s consultants says all schools with a combined score below 54 should be rebuilt. Toney E.S. had a lower school than Fernbank, but Fernbank is being replaced while Toney is getting HVAC, roofing, and ADA work.

    Click to access viewer

  33. Kim says:

    @Hello. I realize there are many poorly maintained schools in DeKalb. There is no capital to raise from parents in 85-95% Title I communities such as Cross Keys. So, then? Checkmate.

  34. DCSSFrustratedParent says:

    @midvaledad – I clicked on the link you provided and I think there are two reasons why “Fernbank is being replaced while Toney is not” (there is ** in the report that say renovate for now until bldg is replaced in 3rd wave of construction)
    – Toney combined score 53.52
    – Fernbank combined score 53.09 – this score is lower than Tony, admittedly by a statistically insignificant amount

    – Toney utilization – 74%
    – Fernbank utilization – 119%

    Just wanted to make sure the facts were put forth – Toney has a higher not lower score; Toney is 45% less utilized.

  35. DeKalb Inside Out says:

    Didn’t Fernbank just get a $10M renovation?

  36. When I first met Pat Pope, it was at Fernbank ES. She was standing in the new atrium, proudly pointing out the renovations and additions that had just been completed there — having been designed by her husband.

  37. midvaledad says:

    @DCSSFrustratedParent, utilization is not a factor in the matrix. Toney fell below the combined score “threshold” but was not replaced. Smells like politics.

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