(UPDATE) Decatur School Board agrees to look at building Early Childhood Learning Center
By Dena Mellick, Associate editor
The Decatur School Board on Tuesday unanimously approved a recommendation by Superintendent Phyllis Edwards to look further into building a $7 million early childhood learning center at a new development planned for E. College Avenue and Sam’s Street.
The Board voted to approve the superintendent working with Columbia Ventures to get architectural drawings for a possible early childhood learning center at the mixed-use development salted for the Avondale MARTA Station. Board member Julie Rhame was absent.
The cost for the architectural drawings is between $125,000 to $150,000.
Dillon Baynes, managing partner of Columbia Ventures, presented plans for the 7.5 acre property. He said plans for the mixed-use development include market-rate apartments, senior housing, and 21,000 square feet of commercial space. It will also include bringing the PATH trail up from the south and making the development very bike and pedestrian friendly.
Baynes said challenges include dealing with DeKalb County about leasing additional Sams Street space, currently utilized by DeKalb County Family and Children Services (DFCS).
“We have been in discussions with DeKalb County. We’ve been in discussions with DFCS,” Baynes said. “DeKalb County is willing to discuss, but on their timeline, the leasing or sale of that property for use of the school for Decatur.”
Baynes said the hope is that the school system will be able to advance talks with the county for that property.
CSD Attorney Bob Wilson chimed in, saying of Columbia Ventures, “They’ve made a valiant effort to see if we could expand the footprint to include the DeKalb property. And as Dillon has said, DeKalb has their own timeline. … If we can get DeKalb to sell us at a reasonable price that piece of property, then, the two properties will be used jointly for what is being proposed here tonight.”
Superintendent Edwards said the move is part of a bigger discussion of expansion for CSD.
“Through a very creative way, have created an early childhood learning center that’s quite successful. Just one of the options could be that College Heights turn back into an elementary school. If so, then the question has to be answered, do you continue with early an childhood learning center? If so, where will that be?” Edwards said.
The addition of an early childhood learning center there would coincide with plans for CSD to potentially purchase land on Talley Street.
“The area … also shows where you guys have a purchase contract for a 5 or 6 acres expansion over on Talley Street,” Baynes said. “So what we’re talking about is concentrating education facilities in one area.”
CSD has been somewhat stingy with information regarding the Talley Street property purchase, though Chairman Garrett Goebel provided some pricing info to Decaturish. Goebel read a statement regarding the Talley Street property at Tuesday night’s meeting, saying, “Our preliminary plan with respect to this property is to build another primary grade school in order to accommodate enrollment growth. Our projections show that unless we find another location for an elementary school, we will quickly run out of room space to house portables.”
There are two contracts on the 5.9 acres of land; one is for $1.25 million per acre and the other is for $1.15 million per acre.
Goebel added, “Portables do not alleviate capacity issues involving use of the cafeteria, gym, or media center spaces. The decision to enter into these contracts came after years of looking for possible locations and months of negotiations. There are a number of contingencies built into both contracts that we cannot discuss at this time.”
However, Goebel said, “We are optimistic that we will be able to close the sale and that this property will be able to address the capacity needs of our enrollment and growth.”
One of the contingencies is the passage of a $75 million bond referendum for school construction. It’s on the ballot this November and would require raising school taxes by 8 percent.
Columbia Ventures said in terms of the early childhood learning center, it’s hoping to keep costs at about $7 million for that project.
“This is the opportunity to participate in our infrastructure loan,” Baynes said. “I’m here tonight to ask you guys to commit the funds so that we can begin granular study of this early childhood learning center on the property.”
Here is the full presentation from Columbia Ventures delivered at the Aug. 11 meeting.