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DeKalb Schools ends Dunwoody-Chamblee Elementary construction contract after spending $5 million

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DeKalb Schools ends Dunwoody-Chamblee Elementary construction contract after spending $5 million

DeKalb County School District Administration and Instructional Complex on Mountain Industrial Boulevard in Stone Mountain. Photo by Dean Hesse.

This story has been updated. 

DeKalb County, GA — New Superintendent Devon Horton revealed in a memo sent out Aug. 2 that his predecessor, interim superintendent Dr. Vasanne Tinsley, had terminated a contract with CGLS Architects and Evergreen Construction to build a new 950-seat elementary school in the Dunwoody-Chamblee area.

The school was approved as a SPLOST V project in 2020.

According to information provided by the district, DeKalb Schools had already spent more than $5 million on the new elementary school before pulling the plug. The project’s future is uncertain.

Tinsley evidently terminated the contract because the district was paying $100,000 per month in contracted fees on the project, but no work was being done.

“This lengthy financial burden was unjustifiable and diverted funds that could have been used to address other educational needs,” Horton said. 

District 1 Board of Education member Anna Hill agreed in a statement on her Facebook page that the decision was appropriate.  However, Hill took issue with the fact that Tinsley’s administration notified CGLS and Evergreen of the decision on April 14 of this year, but did not notify the board of education members.

Hill stated that the board was not aware of the decision until after Horton started work as superintendent on July 1, despite frequent inquiries.

I have been asking for months via email and at [Board of Education] meetings about the status of this project.” said Hill.

Tinsley said via phone on Aug. 15 that she would need to research the matter further before making a comment, saying she’s no longer engaged with the day-to-day operations of the school district.

“Thank you for calling me and giving me the awareness,” Tinsley told a reporter.

DCSD’s Legal Affairs department confirmed recently that the district has spent $5.3 million on the project thus far. The district does not consider CGLS Architects and Evergreen Construction to be in breach of contract.

Horton said the district’s warm body count as of Aug. 14 is 80,740, about 1,272 students below projections. The warm body count is the number of students recorded at the very beginning of the school year, but more families often join the district after Labor Day, according to one board member. The district won’t have the final enrollment numbers until October.

In 2016, the county schools had more than 100,000 students. Enrollment declined sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic, dropping by about 5,000 students.

Horton said that the project was originally planned both before the pandemic and before the district’s Comprehensive Master Plan and that the district has experienced unexpected enrollment changes that mean the projections for the new elementary school may not be accurate.

In addition, the Comprehensive Master Plan calls for a more thorough process for evaluating facility capacity needs.

Horton said that before re-starting construction, the district will commission a new enrollment analysis that will inform all decisions about construction projects, including Dunwoody-Chamblee.

Dunwoody-Chamblee Elementary came up at the district’s Audit Committee meeting, as an example of how project delays have cost the district money. 

Hill said that she looked forward to seeing the results of the new enrollment analysis, and hastened to emphasize that no final decisions have been made. 

“All that has happened is that there is a tentative hold on that project,” Hill said.

Horton stated in his memo that DCSD is committed to being fiscally responsible and accountable to the community.

“We are fully aware of our responsibility to use our resources wisely and ensure that any school construction projects can be adjusted to align with current and projected enrollment needs,” Horton said. 

Editor and Publisher Dan Whisenhunt contributed reporting to this story.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story contained information about enrollment counts. That portion of the story has been updated after getting additional context from a school board member.

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