Should Decatur Annex Children’s Home To Build New Schools?

Posted by September 12, 2013

The Decatur schools are so good people move here to enroll their kids. But there’s a price for being good.

The student population is growing TOO fast – more than 10 percent in each of the last few years. The buildings can’t keep up with the number of students.

The school system has made some cost-efficient moves to deal with crowding, such as expanding two schools and reopening the Westchester building. The school board wants to renovate the middle and high school, where enrollment is expected to double in five years.

But you can only expand so much. Sooner or later, Decatur will need to build brand new schools. One big problem: Locations are limited in a dense city of only four square miles.

When people talked about spots for a new school, the DeVry University building on DeKalb Industrial usually came up. The place has more than 100,000 feet of space, sits on a 21-acre lot and was built for education. It already has classrooms. The city annexed the site in 2009.

Maybe DeVry was never seriously considered, but it’s certainly off the table now. Real Estate BisNow says a company has a 20-year lease and plans to turn it into a clinic for VA patients.

This deal reminds me that something bold needs to be done to address overcrowding. This is my suggestion.

The city should make a deal with the United Methodist Children’s Home, annex this land just outside the city limits and build a new school complex there.

The city considered annexing the children’s home last year but dropped the idea. The city only went after property with high commercial value that could increase the tax base.

Of course, Decatur’s pared-down request went nowhere when it got to the legislature. Any annexation idea faces roadblocks in cityhood-happy DeKalb County these days.

But let’s leave that difficulty out of the conversation for now.

The city and the school system should cooperate to fix the overcrowding problem before it becomes a crisis. Available land is hard to find. Though annexing the children’s home would run counter to the city’s desire to increase the commercial tax base, it’s a cost Decatur’s leaders and its citizens should accept. In the long run it could save the school system, the city’s greatest asset.

What do you think?


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