Tags: Education News & School Sports
October 23, 2013SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. – The headquarters for the Fulton County School System is heading north, after more than 60 years on Cleveland Avenue in South Fulton. While the move was resisted by many on the south side, the decision was inevitable as the population center – and board member clout – moved north over the past few decades.
By the start of the next school year, the administrative headquarters will be up and running in a new location at 6201 Powers Ferry Road in Sandy Springs. The site is about half the distance for North Fulton commuters than the present location in southwest Atlanta.
The Fulton County Board of Education voted last week in a split 5-2 decision to take six existing buildings out of service – including the present headquarters on Cleveland Avenue – and replace them with three centrally located, and far less expensive, facilities.
In addition to the new administrative center, a North Learning Center and South Learning Center will open to house many of the programs currently in place in the six existing buildings.
The decision also affects Milton Center (old Milton High School), which will cease operations at the end of the year. No decision has been made on the fate of Independence High School, which is currently housed there, but the school could return to its former location in Roswell at the start of next school year.
School officials say the decision to consolidate existing buildings into three locations will centralize the district's support functions, provide more efficiency in operations and save millions of taxpayer dollars.
"Since I joined the Fulton County School System, I've been examining how our central office operates, how it could provide more support to schools and how it could be more efficient," said Superintendent Robert Avossa. "Consolidating our support centers will provide greater service to students, and the money saved in operational costs will benefit our taxpayers. These savings can be redirected to the classroom and invested into student learning."
The six buildings slated to be closed have an average age of more than 50 years and were found to be in poor condition based on a facility conditions assessment two years ago. Bringing them up to suitability would require nearly $56 million. Closing down the sites and relocating their functions would yield a one-time savings of $22 million, in addition to $2.2 million savings each year in operating costs.
Consolidating from six buildings to three buildings also reduces square footage by 70 percent, which provides savings on maintenance, security, custodial and other operating costs.
"We've known for years that these buildings were close to the end of their life cycle but our focus [to this point] has been on providing quality schools for students and teachers," said Linda Schultz, president of the Fulton School Board. "[Now] it makes sense to look at consolidating our administrative space, and at the same time, move the location closer to the center of the population."
The fate of the six "consolidated" buildings has not been determined, said Avossa. But options include demolishing and land banking the sites for future uses, selling the properties or repurposing for other needs in the future. No decisions have been made on staff reductions as a result of the consolidation.
Board insiders say it was important that the decision to move the school district headquarters be based strictly on financial feasibility, since the change was cloaked in racial and demographic issues.
In the late 1950s, when the current Fulton Schools Administrative Center opened in the renovated office building in southwest Atlanta, Fulton's student population base was mostly in South Fulton. Today, growth in North Fulton over the past few decades has pulled the geographic center of student population, as well as employee population, to Sandy Springs.
"While the Census numbers have supported [this move] for a long time, this has been an emotional subject for many," said Fulton School Board member Katie Reeves, of Alpharetta. "But our board, Dr. Avossa and our entire leadership team is focused on the right thing, and that is academics and the best way we can serve our students."
The makeup of the school board has also changed as a result of the population shift. Following the 2000 Census, North Fulton gained an additional board member, while South Fulton lost one seat and most of a another seat.
The discussion of moving the headquarters to a more central location was often floated and nibbled around the edges, however the board moved slowly on the decision.
Former Superintendent Cindy Loe worked to include funding for a new building in the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which was approved by voters two years ago for a fourth round. But the final push came from Avossa, who led the effort to identify sites and look at the issue from the financial standpoint.
"The bottom line is the taxpayers expect [school staff] to make wise financial decisions, and that is what we are doing," said Avossa.
Pending the final sale of the Sandy Springs properties, which is expected by the end of October, departments and staff will begin transitioning into the new buildings by September 2014. Moves will occur gradually over a series of months so that service to students and schools is not negatively impacted. All moves are expected to be complete by June 2015.
Changes to building plans for Fulton School System
New administrative buildings
Central Administration Building – 6201 Powers Ferry Road in Sandy Springs
North Learning Center – 450 Northridge Parkway, Sandy Springs
South Learning Center – 4025 Flat Shoals Road, Union City
Properties slated for closing/repurposing
Current Administrative Center – 786 Cleveland Avenue SW, Atlanta
Milton Center – 86 School Drive, Alpharetta
Jo Wells Center – 554 Parkway Drive, Hapeville
Meadows Operations Center – 5270 Northfield Blvd., College Park
Professional Learning Center – 3121 Norman Berry Drive, East Point
Instructional Technology Center – 2370 Union Road SW, Atlanta