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Decatur School Board extends five-year capital improvement plan until 2023

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Decatur School Board extends five-year capital improvement plan until 2023

The City Schools of Decatur School Board met on Tuesday, Nov. 9, to discuss the five-year capital improvement plan, recognize the teachers of the year, and discuss the COVID-19 update. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

Decatur, GA — The City Schools of Decatur School Board, at its Nov. 9 meeting, extended the five-year local facilities plan. The current five-year plan will expire on June 30, 2022, but the board extended that deadline by about one year. The plan will now expire on March 15, 2023.

The School Board, at its Oct. 26 meeting, discussed the initial draft of the district’s five-year facilities plan, which is also the five-year Capital Construction Master Plan. The plan totals $57 million, and the projects the board would like to see come to fruition.

The five-year Capital Construction Master Plan addresses options to update and maintain the school and non-school facilities and will set the direction for development and growth at CSD to support the school system’s vision, according to the agenda packet.

On Tuesday, Superintendent Maggie Fehrman said that after talking to Chief Operating Officer Sergio Perez, and thinking about the timing of new board members being sworn in, it made sense for the current School Board to extend the plan until 2023.

“That will give us some time to review priorities with the new board and talk about what our growth looks like. We are getting an updated analysis from Cooperative Strategies,” Fehrman said.

The draft master plan includes a potential $24 million project for a new combined early learning center and upper elementary school along West Trinity Place between Electric Avenue and Commerce Drive, across the street from the CSD central offices. The lot is currently an open area and is owned by the school district.

“Back in 2017, the city, [Decatur Housing Authority] and City Schools of Decatur entered into an agreement when that land was purchased that would be the designation for that. I think it’s time for that project [to get] up and going,” Fehrman previously said. “We see a need for it.”

Fehrman previously told Decaturish that “both Talley and [Fifth Avenue Upper Elementary Schools] are projected to be over capacity in the next five years, so additional classroom space is needed. At this point, it is very preliminary and just one option for addressing growth in our student population.”

The School Board generally supported the idea of the project but would like to see the facility be more focused on the early childhood learning center, not combined with an upper elementary school.

Other project ideas in the draft master plan include renovating Fifth Avenue Upper Elementary School as the school reaches its capacity. The school could have 12 classrooms added, which would increase the capacity to 700 students. The gym, kitchen and media center would be expanded.

Additionally, the plan suggests adding a new cafeteria area, a new synthetic turf playing field, 24 new parking spaces will be included in the parking lot, as well as additional bus queue space.

City Schools of Decatur also hopes to partner with the city of Decatur to build a track and field at Legacy Park. The project would include a synthetic turf field sized for soccer but set up for football and lacrosse, an eight-lane track, 500-person capacity bleachers, an event plaza and a future field house. The estimated cost for the school district is $2.5 million.

— In other business, the board members shared their frustrations about schools being closed on Friday, Nov. 5, due to the celebration of the Atlanta Braves winning the World Series. Atlanta Public Schools, DeKalb County School District and City Schools of Decatur closed on Friday as the World Series parade was held downtown that afternoon.

“While we had hoped to stay open, we already see a significant impact on Friday operations due to the number of staff who need to be off work to address childcare issues due to other districts’ closures,” a Facebook post from CSD said. “Simply put, we do not have the available staff to address the disruption to school operations we anticipate tomorrow. All students and staff will have the day off with no makeup day, remote learning, or work expectations. We apologize for the inconvenience this closure may cause.”

Board member Lewis Jones said he shared in the anger and embarrassment of the community that school was cancelled for a baseball celebration. While he wasn’t being critical of Fehrman for making the decision, he said they were victims of the circumstance and added the frustration should be acknowledged.

“I think we need to acknowledge how disruptive that is, how counterproductive it is in trying to make up the deficit that we need to make up after the past couple years of closing school. It’s just a completely warped set of priorities that we’re going to cancel school under the circumstances,” Jones said. “It’s complicated when you live in a large county and many of your staff have children in that county, and if they cancel school, it’s very hard to have school yourself.”

He encouraged the district to think about ways CSD could stay open when surrounding districts close “for no reason,” he said.

Fehrman added that closing schools is a last resort.

“It became apparent that there was no way — unless we were putting 200 students in a cafeteria with one or two people monitoring those students — that we’d be able to offer school,” she said.  “At that point, I’d have to say that we cannot bring students to school in a safe way. I was also not looking forward to cancelling school, trying to wait until the last minute to see if we could keep our students in the building, but unfortunately we were not able to.”

Board member Heather Tell wondered which community leaders the district could share their concerns with. She was curious, as were others, about why the parade was held on Friday, instead of Saturday, when families were encouraged to attend.

“There may be reasons for that, but I think there are also many reasons for why it shouldn’t happen again and that should be taken into consideration, because millions of students missed a day of learning,” Tell said. “Also, that disrupted the work day for millions of parents. I feel like it was so disruptive.”

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