Atlanta city schools officials announced Wednesday they will build a new high school in Buckhead and convert North Atlanta High School into a second middle school to relieve overcrowding at Sutton Middle.
The announcement came just a day after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution inquired about such a plan. The response leaves many questions unanswered, including whether the project is contingent on the renewal of a penny-per-dollar sales tax that pays for city school construction projects. That sales tax is due for renewal in 2012.
In a detailed explanation released to parents and obtained by the AJC, officials said that Sutton Middle -- Buckhead's lone middle school -- had stretched beyond its planned capacity of 1,040 students this year to an enrollment of 1,052. They expect the school to grow to approximately 1,169 students next year, 1,340 students by 2012 and so on.
"We believe that this is the result of the high quality education that students are receiving and parents’ desire to support public schools in their community," officials said of that growth, which started in north Atlanta's six elementary schools. Three of those expanded recently. Atlanta spent $14 million building an annex for Sarah Smith Elementary. It also turned old, unused school properties into annexes for two others, Brandon and Jackson, at a cost of $12.9 million and $4.3 million, respectively.
North Atlanta has experienced student growth even as Atlanta has closed schools in other areas of the city because of under-enrollment. In 2007, when system officials asked Atlanta voters to continue paying a local 1 percent sales tax, known as the special purpose local option sales tax or SPLOST, for school construction, they included among other projects the purchase of “land” for two new schools, one located in north Atlanta. At the time, they said those schools could be middle schools.
The sales tax passed. Projected to raise $479 million over five years before it expired, the tax so far has raised $243 million.
No money was specifically set aside to build either a new middle or high school in north Atlanta. In the explanation to parents, officials estimated construction of a new high school could cost between $35 million and $45 million, not including the land. They said they are working with a broker and are in negotiations about a piece of property in Buckhead, but did not want to release more details.
No decision has been made on how to pay for the school, Atlanta school spokesman Keith Bromery said.
Buckhead is one of the city's priciest enclaves. Clay Willcoxon, a Buckhead commercial agent with Coldwell Banker, said land prices in the area have dropped but can still be expensive. "It could be anywhere from $800,000 to $2.5-$3 million an acre, depending on where it is," Willcoxon said.
Officials said they spent two years considering options, including building a sixth-grade annex or adding a classroom wing onto Sutton. Neither of those would provide enough space to justify the costs, officials said.
Bromery said the hope is to open the new high school in 2013.
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