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At Issue: What should Decatur build on Methodist Children’s Home land

Next month Decatur begins assembling its master plan for redeveloping the old United Methodist Children’s Home property. The work’s expected to last six to eight months and includes four community input sessions.

This is a signature milestone, perhaps the signature milestone in the city’s long history (Decatur turns 194 on Dec. 10). For decades adding 77 acres of mostly green space to one of the state’s densest cities seemed inconceivable. Back in April when Decatur agreed to pay $40 million for the property, the typically imperturbable City Manager Peggy Merriss could barely contain herself.

“I feel like the dog who’s caught the bus,” she said. “Now we have to figure out what to do with that bus.”

We’d like to know how you’d answer that question.

The eastern section, or back 22 acres, including a lake, woods and community garden, gets mostly preserved as it stands today. The middle portion includes a gym, outdoor pool and a number of acres for various playing fields.

The most critical section relating to city development is the western portion that fronts South Columbia Drive. The city says there are no definitive plans for this section until the community master planning’s completed. If you participate in those sessions what is your vision?

In 2015 a group of Kennesaw State University students identified 22 contributing resources to a potential historic district. This includes 19 buildings, seven built between 1903 and 1919, six of those made of granite.

It also includes the Whitehead Building originally a schoolhouse built in 1939 with 15-foot ceilings and immense windows emitting streams of natural light.

Several independent observers have suggested potential uses for the property. Do you, for instance, build a boutique retail corridor along the original curved drive, restoring the buildings and creating a mini-downtown? Do you expand the Whitehead Building and turn it back into a school? Do you take a section of the tract and build a small mixed-use development to help pay for the non-commercial parts?

There are only three things the city has to keep: the chapel (which the city won’t own anyway), the administration building and founder Jesse Boring’s grave. The rest is an open canvas.

Send comments to communitynews@ajc.com.

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