United Methodist Children’s Home considering sale of property
This story has been updated.
The United Methodist Children’s Home confirmed to Decaturish that it is considering a potential sale of its property on South Columbia Drive in Decatur.
Numerous readers sent in emails relaying a widely-circulated message sent to nearby residents. The message, written by Debora Burger, said the Board of Trustees will meet soon to consider the sale of the property to a buyer who will develop homes on the site. Burger is a former resident at the children’s home and a former employee.
“It has come to my attention that the Board of Trustees of the United Methodist Children’s Home will be voting this week on the sale of the 77 acre property,” her message says. “There are renderings of 600+ family homesites which would completely change the look and feel of your neighborhood. It could potentially impact traffic, crime, the school system, the environment and property values. UMCH already has O & I zoning and could sell or begin construction without notice to their neighbors. Please share this information with your neighbors and voice your questions and/or concerns to the agency.”
Burger confirmed the contents of the message and said, “Our whole goal here is to inform people and let the community know this is happening. We don’t want that whole thing plowed down.”
John Cerniglia, Vice President of Development at The Children’s Home, confirmed there will be a meeting and confirmed that a sale of property is being considered, but did not provide more information about what it might become if it is sold.
“Our Board has just begun carefully reviewing the information needed to make a thoughtful decision about our campus,” he said. “Once a decision is reached, which has no specific deadline, we will make sure you are informed.”
In a phone interview, Cerniglia said the nonprofit has an important mission of serving children and that any decisions would be to further that mission. “The board is focused on one thing: the crisis children and families are facing in north Georgia, and it’s asking itself the question that any board should be asking, ‘What can we do to alleviate that?'”
When asked what the property would become if it is sold, he said, “Whatever our board decides, the ultimate disposition and use of the property is not our decision. … That is between the buyer and the municipalities involved if – and it’s a big if – a decision is ever reached to sell property.”
Lyn Menne, an Assistant City Manager with the city of Decatur, said the city is also interested in purchasing the property.
“It is our understanding that the UMCH has been considering selling portions of their property for several years,” she said. “The City of Decatur has made known our interest in purchasing the property if they decide that is the direction they want to take, but I am not privy to their decision making process.”
The Children’s Home has been in Decatur since 1873 and was established to care for children orphaned during the Civil War.
“In August 2015, the Board of Trustees approved a new strategic plan that would expand our foster care services,” the UMCH website says. “To meet Georgia’s growing foster care crisis, we are expanding our services from serving an average of 100 foster children per day, to 500 per day by 2020, in partnership with local churches.”
Burger said if the property is leveled and redeveloped, it will be a loss to the community, particularly the thousands of children who have lived at the home.
“It’s important to a lot of people for a lot of reasons and I would hate to see all of it go, because once it’s gone, it’s gone,” she said. “You won’t be able to get it back.”