Alpharetta City Council approved rezoning from special use to office professional for the project during a Monday meeting.
Bailey-Johnson was the only school available to Black students in north Fulton that went beyond 7th grade. The school was open from 1950 to 1968 and was first called Alpharetta Colored School. The school was named after George Bailey, a blacksmith and shop owner, and Warren Johnson, a former slave and advocate for the education of Black children.
The property is owned by Fulton County Schools and currently isn’t in use. In recent years it was used as a maintenance facility.
“It’s a challenging history but it’s a rich history that we want to embrace,” KB Ventures consultant Matt Vyverberg said during the meeting.
Fernald met with Charles Grogan, a local historian, and Pat Miller, president emeritus of the Alpharetta and Old Milton Historical Society, for months to learn the history of the school. He told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Grogan, who attended the school in 1953, provided him with 611 photos taken of students engaging in activities that will be used to honor its history.
“It’s a unique opportunity,” Fernald said Thursday.
KB Ventures plans to purchase the property in May and break ground for construction in June 2022, he said.
The developer plans to preserve the steel sash windows and old brick façade on the former school building and gymnasium. Each is 20,000 square feet and KB Ventures plans to add a 120,000-square-foot timber-frame office building. Design plans include exposed concrete ceilings and loft space for some offices.
Fernald said he believes there is pent-up demand created by tech professionals looking for unconventional office space.
Rezoning conditions included ensuring a parking deck of 400 spaces is located in the rear of the development and not visible to passersby along Kimball Bridge Road.
Grogan attended Monday’s meeting with about 15 alumni of Bailey-Johnson.
During public comment, Grogan said long before meeting Fernald he had hoped that the deteriorating buildings could be restored and the development plans have given him a good feeling.
“The school was a built for a good reason – for education – but (also) for a wrong reason,” Grogan told City Council members. “But if you support these guys it will be for the right reason ...”
Mayor Jim Gilvin added that some other communities are reluctant to acknowledge the past.
“I’m really glad to see that we’re not trying to erase parts of our history just because they are not exactly the way we wished they would’ve happened,” he said. “(The project) honors the past while bringing forward the future.”