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Decatur environmental board suggests city buy greenspace owned by school district

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Decatur environmental board suggests city buy greenspace owned by school district

City Schools of Decatur has proposed building a new early childhood learning center near the Wilson Center. The property is located on West Trinity Place, between Electric Avenue and Commerce Drive. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

This story has been updated.

Decatur, GA — The Decatur Environmental Sustainability Board is considering drafting a letter to city officials to share the importance of the land at the corner of West Trinity Place and Commerce Drive.

The board has discussed the possibility of the city buying part of the property to maintain it as greenspace. The ESB will approve the draft of the letter at its next meeting.

The property is currently owned by City Schools of Decatur. It is located across the street from the CSD central offices. The school district bought the property from the Decatur Housing Authority in 2017.

“When the property was sold to CSD an agreement was made at that time to build an early learning center on the site,” CSD Superintendent Maggie Fehrman said. ” At this time no changes are being considered to that initial plan. CSD is not currently considering selling the property.”

But city officials haven’t given a definitive “no” to the idea of trying to buy the property.

The city of Decatur will soon begin the downtown master plan process and is in the process of creating a parks and recreation master plan. Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett said the master plans will guide the city’s decisions about greenspace acquisition and potential park space.

“The conversation I remember from 2017 is that we talked with CSD about maintaining the corner part of the property for a type of pocket park space which would be a great location for seniors from the Oliver House to interact with and enjoy seeing any students that were on campus,” Garrett said.

City Manager Andrea Arnold added,”it is premature to speculate about any specific parcel.”

At the July 22 Environmental Sustainability Board meeting, Sara Holmes, Active Living assistant director, said buying the land has been considered and the idea of moving the basketball court and playground from Ebster Field to across the street has been floated.

“It’s been talked about like what if we move the playground and basketball court across from the rec center and make that a safe park for the residents in that area,” Holmes said. 

ESB member David Malkin raised a concern at the Aug. 26 meeting that the board should know what the school district has planned for that property before making a recommendation.

“If we’re going to seriously consider drafting a letter, that’s fine. We need to hear from the district first and have a discussion — what’s the current status of this piece of land? What plans, if any do you currently have for it? Then let’s weight the costs and benefits as we see them and then make a recommendation, but to do that prematurely is irresponsible,” he said. 

ESB member Allison Ericson challenged that and said the goal of the board is to obtain more greenspace, and it’s up to the school district to figure out what it will do with the land.

“My objection to that was, as the environmental sustainability board, our focus and one of our goals is to acquire greenspace. It’s not figuring out whether the school needs that land and needs other buildings,” Ericson said. 

In October 2021, the Decatur School Board discussed a draft of the district’s five-year master plan, which totals $57 million, and the projects the board would like to see happen.

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.

The draft master plan includes a $24 million project for a new combined early learning center and upper elementary school along West Trinity Place between Electric Avenue and Commerce Drive.

“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 said at the October 2021 board meeting. “We see a need for it.”

The proposed new upper elementary school would have 10 classrooms with the capacity for 250 students total, and an administrative suite. The facility would also have a new media, multipurpose space, and a kitchen and cafeteria.

The early learning center would have an infant center, one and two-year-olds classrooms, a pre-school, and pre-K classrooms. The new building could double CSD’s current early learning center capacity.

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.

City Schools of Decatur has proposed a $24 million project in its five-year master plan to construct a new early learning center and upper elementary school. The project would potentially be located on the property at Electric Avenue and West Trinity Place. Photo is from the CSD website.

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