The school system has been looking for a site for a new Northside high school for a while now and reportedly had narrowed its search to a handful of options. Recently, however, John W. Grant, owner of the Paces Apartments — a sprawling complex occupying 30 acres at the northwest corner of East Andrews Drive and Roswell Road — received a letter from APS officials warning that if he didn't agree to sell the property to the school system, he'd face eminent domain proceedings.
Grant's reaction? He lawyered up, of course, hiring top real estate attorney Carl Westmoreland to defend his turf. According to insiders, Grant was already in the process of selling the 35-year-old apartment complex to a private developer for an undisclosed sum, under the condition that the tree-covered property remain mid-density residential. (Westmoreland has not yet returned our call.)
Apart from the potentially costly legal battle, locals are criticizing the decision to locate a school next door to the West Buckhead Village, which boasts a distracting array of boutiques and watering holes.
"It's directly across the street from Buckhead's largest bar district," notes veteran neighborhood activist Sally Silver. "If other bars or restaurants wanted to open there, the zoning would prevent it."
The site also lies along Roswell Road, one of the area's busiest thoroughfares, a stone's throw from the even-busier Peachtree Road and the gridlocked W. Paces Ferry. Why did Superintendent Beverly Hall and crew decide this was the best place to put a high school? An APS spokesman issued this statement:
"APS is committed to building a new high school at an appropriate site. At this time we are unable to disclose any particulars about site selection. However, all community input we have received will be considered as we continue to explore all possibilities."
OK, that's not very helpful. Insiders, however, suspect the location was chosen because bargaining with — or condemning — one property owner is easier and possibly cheaper than dealing with several. But Silver says some of the alternative sites the system is considering would seem to make more obvious sense, such as the old IBM property on Northside Parkway near I-75.
Buckhead, of course, already has a high school, but because of furious demand for middle-school classroom space, the APS plans to convert the current North Atlanta H.S. on Northside Drive into another middle school and build a new, even larger high school.
The projected price tag for such a project? Possibly as high as — wait for it — $100 million, when you add in the cost of 25 or 30 acres of some of the city's most expensive real estate, demolition, site prep and construction of a new school campus.
And here's the kicker: The APS has threatened the aforementioned Mr. Grant with condemnation and yet the school board hasn't even approved the location of the planned school. In fact, APS spokesman Keith Bromery seemed surprised that I was surprised that the board hadn't addressed the issue.
"The administration wouldn't bring anything to the board unless it has a contract already in hand ready to sign," he explains.
And there you have the difference between APS and other school systems. Over the years, the Atlanta system has concentrated ever more power and decision-making authority in the office of the superintendent, reducing the elected board to largely rubber-stamp status. In the next couple of weeks, we should see whether the beleaguered Hall is willing to take on one more battle.
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