Sandy Springs is miffed at Fulton County Schools over future plans for Heards Ferry Elementary School in the city’s Riverside area.
The city says it’s being shut out while the school board discusses whether to relocate or refurbish the school.
City leaders worry that construction of a new school, if not properly considered, could cost local taxpayers millions in street and stormwater improvements and lead to traffic nightmares.
Residents are also frustrated. Parents say they’re worried a move would fracture neighborhoods that have formed around the existing school. Other residents fear that planting a new school in their neighborhood would draw traffic that existing streets cannot support.
“The overwhelming sentiment we’ve heard from the school board is that they’re going to do what they want to do, and they’ll let us know what they decide after they do it,” Riverside resident Matthew Stevens said.
Stevens, the father of three preschool children, was one of more than 100 residents who attended an informational meeting sponsored by school board member Gail Dean last week. He said he moved to the area so he could one day walk his children to school.
“We’re really the vested stakeholders in this whole thing,” he said. “It’s our children who will be attending the school.”
Alicia Kellum has children in both the elementary school and nearby Riverwood High School.
“I appreciate Riverwood is overcrowded, and the school needs to be expanded,” she said. “But there has to be an option that can work for both schools.”
Members of the school board have conducted public input sessions but have not indicated how they intend to proceed.
School officials say discussions on property acquisition must be kept closed to guard against land speculators who might drive up prices, costing taxpayers more in the long run.
“Multiple options are being considered, including keeping the school on its existing site,” Deputy Superintendent of Operations Patrick Burke said in a statement. “Our foremost concern is to build the best school possible, in the most economical way, and to safeguard and protect taxpayers’ dollars.”
Resident Charles Maddrey lives just off Riverside Drive, near where many believe the district is considering buying property for the new school.
“We were kind of blind-sided by this,” Maddrey said. “There isn’t any question that we’re going to have problems. It’s a mess now.”
The Sandy Springs City Council passed a resolution Tuesday calling on the school board to open up deliberations so the city can have a say in the decision.
“We’ve had no communication from the Fulton County Board of Education,” Mayor Eva Galambos said.
The city wants to know why a relocation might be necessary and whether the school board has considered renovating the existing school. More importantly, it wants to know whether the district has considered the city’s cost for new street and stormwater improvements if the school is relocated.
Galambos said Sandy Springs does not have spare cash for infrastructure improvements on a project it had no idea was in the works.
City Councilman Gabriel Sterling said he thinks the school board is looking for population increases that aren’t necessarily going to exist.
“I think they’re not looking at the big picture,” he said. “They’re looking at only ‘We passed the SPLOST; We have the money; This is what we want to do,’ as opposed to what’s the right thing to do for the students and for the community.”