Atlanta elementary school to close amid Forest Cove relocation

Credit: Johnny Crawford

Credit: Johnny Crawford

The relocation of residents at the Forest Cove apartment complex will prompt the temporary closure of a nearby Atlanta elementary school, officials said.

The Atlanta Board of Education is expected to vote in May to close Thomasville Heights Elementary School in southeast Atlanta after this school year, according to an announcement from Atlanta Public Schools.

Three-quarters of Thomasville Heights’ 235 students live at Forest Cove, a subsidized housing complex that’s long generated complaints about its dilapidated condition.

Officials had hoped to keep the school open while the apartments were renovated. But a recent court order to demolish the complex by September has put the future of the housing complex and its financing in doubt.

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In an email to supporters, Greg Giornelli, president of Purpose Built Schools Atlanta, a nonprofit APS hired to run the campus, called the Forest Cove situation “nothing short of a tragedy for the families who live there.”

With so much up in the air, it’s not feasible to keep the school open, he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a Monday interview.

“It’s the total uncertainty about the timeline for redevelopment, and it’s the complete uncertainty about how and when people will be relocated. You need certainty about those things to say, ‘Yes, we’ll keep the school open and bus kids back …,’” he said. “You can’t do that if the timeline is two to three years.”

Children who live at Forest Cove can continue to attend Thomasville Heights for the remainder of this school year with transportation provided if families are relocated in the coming weeks or months. In the fall, those students are expected to enroll in other schools based on their new addresses.

The roughly 60 Thomasville Heights students who do not live at Forest Cove will be rezoned to Slater Elementary School, another APS campus managed by Purpose Built and located about 3 ½ miles away.

School officials said they expect Thomasville Heights to reopen upon the apartment complex’s redevelopment.

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Purpose Built had been working with the property’s owner, Millennia Companies, and other agencies for more than a year to figure out a way to retain students while Forest Cove was overhauled.

The plan had been to move families off-site, likely for eight to 18 months, while the property underwent a more than $50 million renovation. During that temporary relocation, officials intended to bus children back to Thomasville Heights so they could continue to attend the school.

That plan was halted after a municipal court judge in December ordered the 396-unit complex to be demolished. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs also rejected an application to financially subsidize the renovation.

The demolition order came after the city of Atlanta filed a lawsuit to raze the apartments, citing hundreds of code violations and concerns about crime.

Millennia spokeswoman Valerie Jerome said the company is appealing the demolition order and it’s uncertain when residents must vacate the property.

In an email, she said Millennia is working with the city, state and housing authorities and “remains committed to gaining the necessary support and approvals to move forward with the relocation of residents and preservation of affordable housing at Forest Cove.”

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In a written statement, APS Superintendent Lisa Herring said the “redevelopment will dramatically improve living conditions for residents and ultimately result in positive outcomes, and we are sensitive to the sudden nature of this situation.”

Herring said the district will work with Purpose Built to minimize disruption to families. She said she looks forward to the school’s return after the apartments are redeveloped.

APS signed a contract with Purpose Built in 2016 to manage and staff four schools as part of the district’s push to turn around low-performing schools.

Giornelli said closing Thomasville Heights will eliminate about 60 positions. He expects about a third of those workers will fill other spots that open up due to attrition.