How Low Will They Go?
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Below are a few notes from the Friday, May 1, 2009 Budget, Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting Minutes
Jay Cunningham, Chair
Committee members Paul Womack, Eugene Walker and Don McChesney were present. Staff member Marcus Turk was present and PTA Council President Nathaniel Paxton and Organization for DeKalb Educators (ODE) President David Schutten were also present.
SOME DISCUSSIONS ITEMS
Ms. Pope said there is asbestos present in the Open Campus building and it would take $30 million to renovate the building. Ms. Pope would like to close the Open Campus building because of its appraised value of $18 million. Ms. Pope noted that there were only 60 students at the Clarkston Center and that it would be relocated. She said DISPAC will remain in Building “A” until it can be moved to the William Bradley Bryant Center for Technology. Ms. Pope mentioned the administrative offices needed a great deal of work.
Dr. Walker stated the Cross Keys High School community is troubled by the development in the area. He inquired should the money be spent as recommended on Cross Keys or should we go in another direction? Ms. Pope thinks we should move forward with the renovations for Cross Keys with the idea of a different designation later, possibly a technology school, military school or school of the arts. Ms. Pope noted the DeKalb County Planning Commission does advise us of developments. She stated they build anyway without real input from the school system. Mr. McChesney made a report of the Cross Keys demographics and DeKalb County Board of Commissioners plans for the area. Ms. Pope stated the Board needs to approve the surplus plan for the future. Mr. Brown asked should we tear down some buildings and convert to green space?
Well, now I decided to have a look for myself at the condition of Cross Keys HS and the surrounding area including Woodward Elementary so I signed up for one of Kim's group tours of the place. All I can say is – Yowsa! The only thing I can compare this horrific, terrible, unkept, crumbling school property to was some of the very impoverished areas of Brazil I witnessed when I traveled the countryside back in 1986 when they were in the middle of an economic crisis. I was shocked to witness homeless people living under cardboard shacks in the underbrush of the Brazilian jungle. That’s what has been going on at Cross Keys, folks!!! Homeless people have been living in the underbrush and trespassing (and urinating and defecating) on the grounds of Cross Keys High School!
There are huge plywood panels lining the fencing which are covered in graffiti. The fencing is mangled on all sides, the sidewalks and buildings are certainly ripe for condemnation and in FAR worse shape than Open Campus. There are many broken windows, some of which have been replaced with some kind of plastic. Now, granted, as Kim reported here a few weeks ago, due to a clean-up effort initiated by ICP Officer Josh Fritz, crews did finally show up with backhoes and cleared the underbrush, kudzu and debris from a large swath behind the ball field that encompasses a ravine leading to the sewage drains and a creek. Miguel Martínez of Mundo Hispanico posted a photo essay of the operation, deemed "Operation Urban Camper". The Brookhaven Reporter also published the story.
At any rate, after my tour of the area, I have to agree with Dr. Walker on this. We would be out of our minds to even attempt to renovate these buildings. The school owns 37.4 acres for Cross Keys and 13.6 acres for Woodward (the front doors between these two are steps away). Oddly, Sequoyah is posted clear out in Doraville, very near I-285, nearly 7 miles from Cross Keys and Woodward. That’s crazy. Make Sequoyah the Military Academy. Can we not bulldoze all of the 51 acres currently owned by DCSS at the Brookhaven site, and rebuild a campus composed of all three schools? Could we not make Cross Keys 2 or 3 stories instead of the rambling, dirt eating monstrosity it is now? Can we not recreate the Chamblee or Tucker Middle School model next to it or at least somewhere within reason? Can we not renovate Woodward into a nice, airy, cheerful elementary school for the children in this area?
Developers have already purchased at least 3 of the apartment complexes surrounding Cross Keys. Cortland Partners has great ambitions for the land and are currently in
the County Planning Process proposing to create a new, Town Center type of development called Symphony Park (you can find Symphony Park under the apartments tab). This area is a 15 minute walk from the Brookhaven Marta station and a couple of miles from the glitz of Buckhead. In fact, the Lenox Park development (former Standard Club) is directly across the street and donates landscaping services to keep up the curb appeal of Cross Keys, since it faces their development. This development is what is apparently causing new apprehension about renovating Cross Keys. It seems that some of our leaders are afraid that we will lose students or that perhaps it could be better to sell the property since it is so valuable. But there are almost 900 students in Cross Keys High School who, according to teachers I have spoken with, are excellent students and delightful young people. They deserve a quality community school to spend their days in, not this decrepit, depressing, disgusting, unhealthy old dinosaur of a school house. Our school board needs to get in gear and make some decisions. My personal recommendation is to “do a Tucker”, meaning build a brand new facility on another portion of the property (it’s an enormous plot of land) and then tear down the old buildings and use that land for an auditorium or stadium of some kind. I am not a professional developer or architect, but I believe that if consulted, a creative developer could come up with a wonderful plan.
Please keep in mind, even though our current administration has built some real showcases in the past 5 years, they still turn a blind eye to the condition of Cross Keys and make what has proven to be so far, empty promises. I have to ask, is it because the population at Cross Keys is largely Hispanic immigrants? I would have hoped that a black leadership who has spent the last 30 years combating racial inequities would at least be sensitive to the plight of these Hispanics. The school conditions these students are enduring certainly must rival or surpass anything our current black leadership had to endure in the past.
I am appalled and ashamed to live in a school district that allows children to attend third world campuses such as Cross Keys. This school has been #2 on the list of priorities for SPLOST 3 since November, 2006, yet nothing has been done. A forensic review from Rubina and McGeehin dated December, 2005 cites Peachtree MS as usurping $16M from the “above the line” projects, and the project size inflation for Miller Grove, New Tucker and New Oakvale also used more than their predicted share of funds. Under the direction of Stan Pritchett (an educator, not a construction manager) these projects became showcases, devouring SPLOST dollars, leaving little for everyone else. For example, Miller Grove’s projected cost was $22 million, yet in the end, it cost over $28 million. Schools like Cross Keys kept getting sidelined. Our school system's SPLOST 2 ineptitude continues to cause pain and angst for many students and teachers in our older buildings as we wait our turn and watch the money disappear.
In April at a public meeting at Ashford Park ES, Patricia Pope promised the community that the new RFP would be opened to bid, reviewed, and signed in a matter of weeks. She also promised that there would be an additional briefing for the community on the proposed plan and schedule for the SPLOST III project once a contractor was named. It is July and no additional update has been forthcoming, no public briefing and to my knowledge no contract signed. Is Cross Keys about to slip down the priority list yet again?
I encourage you all to drive there and walk the property and ask yourself, would you send your child to this school every day? Would Crawford Lewis? Would Pat Pope? Would Mr. Mosely? Would Don McChesney? Our board reps need to put all other projects on hold until they do something about Cross Keys. This has become a complete embarrassment.
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