Should Avondale Estates Purchase the Old Avondale High Campus?

It's been a little more than two years since the DeKalb County School District shuttered Avondale High School.

The school, which was built in 1954, shuttered in May 2011, a casualty of dwindling enrollment and a redistricting of DeKalb schools.

Rather than let it languish, Avondale Estates Mayor Ed Rieker proposes the city purchase the campus at 1192 Clarendon Ave.

It's not a new request; as early as last year, the city, in a series of meetings with school district officials, expressed its desire for the property.

But it's received renewed attention with discussions swirling that a private school may have designs on the old Avondale High campus, too.

That led Rieker to send a letter Interim School Superintendent Michael Thurmond reiterating the city's desire for the property.

A district spokesman did not have an immediate comment, but here is Rieker's letter:

Superintendent Thurman,

This letter is to reaffirm the desire of the City of Avondale Estates to purchase, from the DeKalb County School District (DCSD), the Avondale High School properties that were listed as surplus on November 5th of 2012. As you are aware, during this past year the City of Avondale Estates has held numerous meetings with DCSD management and staff regarding these properties and made several offers to purchase the properties from the DCSD.

Recently we have been made aware of activity by a private school to purchase one of the parcels that is included in the properties that have been labeled as surplus by the DCSD.

While it may be expected that others may be interested in acquiring these properties, we would respectfully request that you and your staff adhere to DCSD Policy in the disposal of these properties. Per that policy, the City of Avondale Estates is notifying you and the DCSD Board that we are aware of the surplus status of the properties and further that we are willing to purchase the properties. This desire and willingness to purchase these properties has been expressed to you and your staff on numerous occasions and we have made several specific offers to purchase the properties.

We would be happy to appear before the DCSD Board to reiterate our offer to purchase these properties and to reconfirm that a purchase by the City of Avondale Estates would keep these properties for the use of the public.

DCSD policy, DeKalb County Policy and Georgia state law all support the concept and practice that selling surplus DCSD property to governmental entities and municipalities is in the best interests of the community and has a higher priority than selling the same property to private groups.

The purchase of the property by the City of Avondale Estates will ensure that these DCSD properties, that were acquired and maintained by the expenditure of local tax dollars, would remain in service to the public via its purchase by the City of Avondale Estates. If they are sold to a private group they would no longer be available for public use.

The City of Avondale Estates has an immediate need for expanding our green space and would immediately utilize the now underutilized sports fields located across from the Avondale High School buildings. We would revitalize this property by immediately creating and implementing a master plan that would include a dog park, large playing fields for organized sports, a community garden and other outdoor recreational needs.  All would be welcome at this public park.

We have made specific proposals to DCSD management regarding the acquisition of the school buildings and have offered to lease back, at no cost to DCSD, all or part of the buildings so that over the next several years DCSD may continue to use various portions of the buildings as its needs dictate while it transitions programs within the DCSD system.

We continue to seek a collaborative, positive outcome between our two governmental agencies in this matter.  It is our hope that you, your team and the DCSD Board will agree with us that working together we may find a path that allows for the purchase of these proprieties by our community which would ensure their continued use for the public good by all and create a beneficial economic outcome for the DCSD and DeKalb County citizens.

The City of Avondale Estates looks forward to moving ahead with the DeKalb County School District to complete a transaction that is in the best interest of the community and our respective governmental agencies. Please let me know if I may be of service.

Ed Rieker
Mayor, City of Avondale Estates
Avondale's interest in the high school property coincides with its ongoing review of its master plan for its downtown as well as an influx of pockets of redevelopment.

And with an identified need and use for the facilities, the city would avoid the the possibility having school buildings falling into disrepair.

In Atlanta, for example, the Atlanta Public Schools have a number of shuttered properties that are in various states of deterioration.

One of its closed grammar schools in the East Atlanta neighborhood, which was recently sold to a developer with plans for an apartment conversion, was in such bad shape, homeless people camped inside, one of the floors was structurally unsound and at least one tree was growing inside, thanks to a hole in the roof.

What do you think of Avondale Estates' desire to purchase the old Avondale High School?
bksld December 04, 2013 at 06:36 AM
As a resident of Avondale Estates since 1961 and a graduate of Avondale High School in 1970 I am in complete support of the City purchasing the high school property. What was once the best public high school in the Georgia is now a disgrace to those of us who are alumni and the property is a disgrace to the City. The DeKalb Board of Education has done little to nothing to maintain the property over the years. The DeKalb School for the Performing Arts should find a new location and the entire complex should be torn down to make way for new development that is consistent with the values of Avondale Estates both past and present.
Lexosprey December 04, 2013 at 08:45 AM
So the idea is to move an existing successful school that's been ranked number two in the state of Georgia to make a dog park? The DeKalb School of the Art is currently using this facility. It would cost hundreds of thousands if not more to move that school and would have serious adverse effects on the students, their education, other matriculation, as well as the teachers and staff. In an era of tough decisions regarding education, fortunately this is an easy one.
Gail Bowman December 04, 2013 at 09:29 AM
I think they should try to sell it to another facility and let it return to being a school. I do however think that if they have that kind of money they should purchase the old Tudor buildings in downtown Avondale that are such an eye sore and improve the look of what really counts to Avondale. I'm an Architect and cannot believe when I drive through there that those buildings are permitted to stand in such a disreputable state. No decent business would rent them. That's the HEART of Avondale Estates. I designed a building down the street from them years ago. The design was "bastardized" during construction to save money, but the original intent of the board member who did it was to uplift that area by building a building in the Tudor style that would enhance the area. There must be some really strong legalities involved to let them remain in the condition they are in. At least one reputable business is going in at Palookaville.
Estelle Williams December 04, 2013 at 11:21 AM
I'm not sure the future of the DeKalb School of the Arts has been thought through. After the now-deposed School Board built the Avondale Middle School in a very quiet neighborhood with no major street access (lanes have been turned into one-way streets to squeeze traffic in), they then closed the school after 9 years of operation. It was built for 1,200; it closed with 249 students. Still a school in excellent condition, the Board then closed Avondale, surplussed it, and said Avondale could become a k-12 School for the Performing Arts. A new auditorium? Replace the athletic fields, which are next to houses. The physical layout of Avondale High School supports this kind of use. There's an existing auditorium. There are parking lots. It's next to a commercial area. About $20 million in DeKalb School taxes was spent to upgrade the school before it was closed two years ago. If a performing arts school, including one for lower grades, does not need athletic fields (I doubt that), then those could be sold, and I agree they should go to Avondale. School Board, use your head this time!
Juan December 04, 2013 at 02:33 PM
The City of AE hasn't done squat to develop its horrid downtown in years (pallokaville is a good start but there is ALOT of work needed) so what makes anyone think they have any concrete ideas or the wherewithall to do anything with the school property?!?!? http://keep-avondale-estates-lame.org/
george kennedy December 04, 2013 at 05:01 PM
since Oakhurst properties bought the tudor village block, they have actually done a great deal of renovation on the interior. they are good local developers who are committed to preserving the existing structure while doing what's needed to restore the building(s) and attract new tenants. There is a new tenant ( locally owned pub, "bishops") which will hopefully be opening in the tudor village soon. The block behind the tudor village is undergoing a thorough rennovation and will soon be a thriving part of our community as well. The new craft brewery has completed the permit proccess and will be opening soon. There is a lot to be positive about in Avondale Estates if people will give up their comfort zone of negativity, find out what's really going on and get involved in a positive way.
Brad Jones December 04, 2013 at 09:16 PM
As a new AE resident, I am supportive of the City acquiring the Athletic Fields area as there is not as much active or passive recreation land in the City, only Willis Park and the overgrown "playground lots". As far as the school building, that serves little purpose unless the City can find a developer with an interest to build appropriately. However, it would be better for the City to acquire it and target the right developer than have the School Board sell it to a less scrupulous group. There is also nothing wrong turning it into a private school campus, but the fields across the street need to be a public park. It would not be the City's decision to kick out the School for the Arts---DCSS has already deemed old AHS as surplus, so the move is afoot anyway!
Shaconna Haley December 08, 2013 at 08:30 AM
This conversation is odd... The Dekalb School of the Arts is #2 school in the State of Georgia. A MORE THAN SUCCESSFUL SCHOOL, which one would think Avondale Estates community would be proud of and advocate it's continued residence and K-12 expansion. Just because it's an arts focus does not mean there's no need for outdoor use of fields. Students are still required to take PE. Now, should DSA be relocated, that's another story. But, why not support the positive light that DSA brings to the community, which includes wonderful shows for neighbors to attend.
Brad Jones December 09, 2013 at 01:49 PM
From what I have read, There are plans to move the DSA campus to the Old Avondale Middle Facility, currently being used as a temporary campus for Fernbank. AMS is newer than the old AHS buildings. What is perplexing is why didn't they move DSA to AMS site originally instead of moving twice? Oh, well. Government does funny things.
Melissa O'Shields December 10, 2013 at 10:21 AM
It is apparent that all the naysayers on this thread have no idea about the purchase of the Tudor Village by Oakhurst Realty or the master planning and redevelopment of the downtown district of AE. Do you think the owner of Pallookaville who is a national celebrity would be so foolish as to invest his restaurant in a blighted area? As far as AHS and surrounding sports fields. We who live in the Avonwood Subdivision of AE deserve improvements for the southwest side of the city that will enhance our community and property values. My son went to the Avondale DeKalb School of the Arts and we live right next door. After the huge disappointment with the sale of the property to WALMART and the promise of a mixed use development on that site which DeKalb County has never followed through with, I am ready to see a new proposal. Yes AE is wanting to create a dog park and more green spaces, but you managed to miss the important line in the letter that a private school may have designs on the old Avondale High campus, too. BRAVO to Mayor Rieker!!
Jeff Bragg December 10, 2013 at 12:23 PM
A word of WARNING to any potential occupant or purchaser of Avondale High School. I am a former teacher at Cross Keys High School. We suffered and finally won a bitter fight with Pat Pope/Reid over the issue of dangerous asbestos in that school. We had already seen our SPLOST II renovation aborted due to a dispute with that contractor over asbestos. In our SPLOST III renovation, PP/R lied to the new contractor and to Board member McChesney, claiming there was no asbestos in CK. Unknown to her, teachers had anticipated that the Crawford Lewis regime would lie about this, so we secretly obtained samples of suspected asbestos so degraded it was falling on the floor. Lab inspections by an EPA-certified lab confirmed the presence of dangerous asbestos in every area of the school. When we publicized this, PP/R threatened me, McChesney came to my classroom door while students were in class and berated me for raising a false alarm, and I was prohibited from talking to the contractor, though I was on the school's SPLOST Design Team. Luckily, the contractor, Evergreen, recognized the danger and potential liabilityand demanded a school inspection. When the inspection found even more asbestor, the abatement was ordered and done. ANYONE who buys or uses an old DeKalb school should assume the presence of asbestos unless a recent complete removal can be documented. That work should be on file with the GA Environmental Protection Department. Every public school should have available for inspection by anyone a federally-mandated AHERA log. That log, if competently and honestly done, should show the location, type, and condition of all asbestos in the school. WARNING: At Cross Keys, the location and type data was generally accurate. However, in many cases, asbestos stated to be in "Good" condition was actually degraded, "friable", and dangerous. CHECK it yourself. The US EPA has good pamphlets online about asbestos in schools.
Juan December 10, 2013 at 05:03 PM
Ms. O'Shields, with all due respect, we've been hearing about the "master planning and redevelopment of the downtown district of AE" for years. Sure, some blame can be placed on the recession and the failure of the proposed Publix, but c'mon. That whole downtown has been a blight for years - prior to the last recession. Surely some blame has to go to the city leaders . Heck, downtown Decatur 20 years ago was way ahead of where downtown Avondale is now.
Melissa O'Shields December 10, 2013 at 06:49 PM
I hear you Juan. I've lived through it too. I believe things will change now, so in the words of Bob Dylan..... Come writers and critics Who prophesize with your pen And keep your eyes wide The chance won't come again And don't speak too soon For the wheel's still in spin And there's no tellin' who That it's namin' For the loser now Will be later to win For the times they are a-changin'.
Julie Feely December 11, 2013 at 12:44 PM
The public record, available on the DeKalb Board of Education (BOE) website, clearly reflects that the Avondale High School, along with several other schools, was determined to be "surplus" during the November 5 2012 BOE meeting and the meeting minutes approved on Dec 2 2012. https://eboard.eboardsolutions.com/Meetings/Attachment.aspx?S=4054&AID=440464&MID=23961 I cannot locate information in the DeKalb BOE records documenting that a different (public) decision has now been made by the BOE (a decision not to sell, or perhaps a decision to repurpose the building for use by the school system). Perhaps the author of the article could investigate this further?
Julie Feely December 11, 2013 at 12:56 PM
Here is the link to the February 2013 public meeting legal announcement regarding the disposition of various school facilities, and movement of the students, in the DeKalb school system. http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/www/documents/splost-iv/dcsd-phase-out-champion-notice.pdf
Julie Feely December 11, 2013 at 01:19 PM
I see that the original version of this article has been revised to remove the statement by Quinn Hudson that stated, incorrectly, that the Avondale High School had note been listed as surplus and available for sale. The Patch should consider clearly indicating in the article header that the article has been revised for accuracy. The links I provided above indicate that Mr. Hudson's statement (pasted below from the original Patch article) was wrong. 'But according to district spokesman Quinn Hudson, the property is not listed as a surplus school site that could be sold. "The Board has not approved the Avondale property as surplus," Hudson wrote in an e-mail to Decatur-Avondale Estates Patch.'


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