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Sewage backups disrupt learning at Druid Hills High; school recently removed from renovation list

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Sewage backups disrupt learning at Druid Hills High; school recently removed from renovation list

Druid Hills High School. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Atlanta, GA — In February, the DeKalb Board of Education removed a “modernization” of Druid Hills High School from a list of proposed school repair and renovation projects to be sent to the Georgia Department of Education.

Parents say the school is falling apart and in need of repair.

A month later, on March 30, the school reported that a sewage backup is causing disruptions at Druid Hills High.

“This afternoon we experienced a sewage backup on their ground floor in the main building,” Principal Mark Joyner said in an email to parents. “Plumbers from Operations quickly arrived on site and worked to find the source. While this was occurring, all students and classes that were on that floor were relocated to the cafeteria and theater. Plumbers were eventually able to clear the clog, but the lower floor does have a the residual odor from the backup. Custodians are working to neutralize the odor, and if necessary, the school will relocate lower floor classes again to the cafeteria and theater.”

A school district spokesperson said they will be issuing a statement about the situation today, March 31.

Community members who contacted Decaturish today said the situation is still disrupting learning at the school. Classes can’t meet in the lower floor of the main building. Another community member forwarded along a message posted by a teacher describing the situation.

“Dekalb County School Board members needs to visit Druid Hills High today,” the teacher wrote. “Not that they will, but it might make an impression on them. The beauty of the architecture of a 95-year-old building is wonderful, however the 95-year-old sewage pipes are not so pretty. They actually don’t work. For those who have never been here, half the student restrooms on campus are now closed along with faculty restrooms as raw sewage came out of the floor. Bandaid fixes on old County buildings are simply not going to work anymore. You can’t fix the HVAC this way, you can’t fix mold issues this way, you can’t fix massive plumbing issues, and you can’t fix lead in the water pipes with small amounts of money.”

Parents concerned about the condition of the school have begun meeting as the DHHS Red Devil Task Force. According to a planning document forwarded to Decaturish, they say the buildings have been “Frankensteined” together over the years, creating a number of security, health and safety issues at the school.

In 2020 the DeKalb County School District hired the architecture firm Perkins & Will to do an assessment of the district’s facilities and make recommendations on how to bring various facilities up to standard. Those recommendations formed part of the basis for the district’s Comprehensive Master Plan. Each school received both a Facility Condition Assessment and an Educational Suitability Assessment. Druid Hills High School’s FCA is 69 and its ESA is 57.6.

“When you average them, we’re the lowest of any high school,” said Ken Schroeder, chair of the Druid Hills Cluster Alliance, in a previous Decaturish story about the school. Schroeder said that the score was higher than it would otherwise be because of a science wing built in 2010, but that the other buildings individually received scores in the 50s.

It’s unclear why the project was removed from the renovation list. Board Vice Chair Diijon DaCosta and Board member Anna Hill expressed concern about the cost of modernization at $60 million versus an earlier estimate of $6 million for repairs.

Board member Marshall Orson, when asked for comment said, “There is no clear reason why the DHHS plan was deleted from the list. One factor cited—the disparity between the year one repair costs and the replacement/renovation cost—would be true for every project on the list.”

According to the planning document prepared by the Task Force, the school has stormwater issues due to old piping and the gym floods regularly after heavy rains.

Writer Sara Amis contributed to the story. 

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