School Board set to decide on new elementary school

Plans for a new elementary school on chamblee Dunwoody Road show a central building with space for modular classrooms at the west.

DUNWOODY, Ga. — The DeKalb County School Board was expected to consider approval of $35 million in funding to build a 950-student elementary school on Chamblee Dunwoody Road, the former site of Shallowford Elementary School.

The design of the school will mimic that of the newly opened Austin Elementary School on Roberts Drive.

According to documents filed in advance of the meeting, the former Shallowford site is the logical choice for a new school, because the school district already owns the land.

“This site is also located close to the border of the Dunwoody and Chamblee clusters and provides several potential options for relief of nearby overcrowded schools,” the report said.

An architectural rendering of the school shows a 118,000-square foot, three-story structure with a 1.5-acre play field, an amphitheater located in a courtyard, and room on the edge of the property for placement of five modular classrooms.  

A Dekalb County School spokesperson said the school opening is projected to be August 2022.

“The attendance area for this school has not been set,” a statement from the district said. “Attendance area planning for this school will be part of the current Comprehensive Master Planning Process that is kicking off this month and will run through November of 2021.”

Some residents have questioned the need for a new elementary school, citing DeKalb County School’s latest statistics regarding enrollment in the Dunwoody cluster.

According to that document, published in early October, only Chesnut Elementary School and Vanderlyn Elementary School are overcrowded. The student count at Chesnut is 443 — 79 students more than capacity. Vanderlyn’s population is 443 and has a capacity of 389 students. Austin Elementary, which has room for 911 students, has 682 enrolled. Kingsley, Hightower and Dunwoody Elementary schools are all operating slightly under capacity.

The board document indicates that the Dunwoody elementary school cluster is at about 85 percent of its capacity.

In contrast, Peachtree Charter Middle School and Dunwoody High School are operating well above capacity. The middle school is more than 200 students over its 1,213 capacity. Dunwoody High School’s population is at 2,143 for a school that was built for 1,515 students.

Overall, there are 93,674 students enrolled in the DeKalb County School System, with a capacity of 106,280.

Educate Dunwoody, a group advocating for Dunwoody public school students with a focus on school overcrowding, has several people in its Facebook forum calling for construction of a school that would relieve middle and high school congestion. 

“We need something to happen for the middle and high school … are you even kidding me?” wrote Tina Muirhead-Walden on the Educate Dunwoody Facebook Page. “What do you expect our families to do, just abandon public education because DeKalb refuses to address the overcrowding and lack of sports fields in Dunwoody? Our overcrowding and lack of fields is completely unacceptable.”

Others said they think the impact of the pandemic means that virtual learning will be the norm rather than the exception, and that building new schools that will remain empty is a waste of taxpayer’s dollars.

Still others complained that the design of the school is impractical and that advance planning of space for modular classrooms shows a lack of planning from the start.

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