District 3 Board of Education member Gail Dean, who represents the area where the school is located, hosted the meeting at Riverwood International Charter School, attended by about 100 people.
As part of a proposal to expand Riverwood’s 40-acre campus, which abuts the 10-acre Heards Ferry campus, the district plans to either rebuild Heards Ferry on its current spot or move the school to a new site, so Riverwood can possibly occupy that space, making the school more in line with the district’s other high schools, said Patrick Burke, the district’s deputy superintendent of operations.
One of the proposed new locations is a cluster of six homes on the south end of Riverside Drive, according to a March 4 letter to the school board and Fulton Board of Commissioners from the Riley Place Homeowners Association, which strongly opposes the plan. According to the letter, the district may use eminent domain to acquire some of those properties.
As he was recognized by Dean, District 3 Sandy Springs City Councilman Chip Collins, who represents the Riverside area and lives there, spoke on the issue.
“One thing we can agree on is our kids do deserve better facilities,” said Collins, a Riverwood graduate. “This room [the cafeteria] looks the same way as it did in 1983 when I was a student here. … That’s my nice comment. My not-so-nice comment is I was incredibly surprised when I called John McDonough’s office, after getting tons of emails about this, I [discovered] that the city was never was approached through this process.”
Burke responded, “It still is wide open and let’s work constructively.” He added the district is looking at 20 sites for the new Heards Ferry campus based on eight criteria. Burke also said the proposal to expand Riverwood and rebuild Heards Ferry were approved by the voters when they passed E-SPLOST IV, the county’s 1 percent sales tax for school construction projects, in November 2011.
The district held previous meetings on the district’s plans for area schools Nov. 8 (Riverwood), Jan. 10 (Lake Forest Elementary) and Jan. 23 (Heards Ferry) but did not inform the general public or media about them. It plans to open the new Heards Ferry campus in August 2015, with a decision on a new site to be made this summer. The expanded Riverwood campus is supposed to open in August 2017.
“This is a tight sight already, so we have to worry about both schools,” Burke said. “To date, we are still looking at multiple options.”
Burke said the Heards Ferry campus is being rebuilt because it’s more feasible to construct a new campus than maintain the old one.
Then resident Lee Duncan, who chairs the city’s planning commission, asked, “If we’re going to have a [way] to help you, we need to be at least as educated as you and your staff. … We would have loved to hear why Heards Ferry needs to be rebuilt.”
Burke then interrupted Duncan.
“Let me finish!” Duncan said. “Even if hell freezes over you’re going to let me [speak].”
Burke then replied, “We are here to hear those concerns."
Chris Clark, head of the Riley Place Homeowners Association, asked if eminent domain would be used to acquire property for the new Heards Ferry campus.
“That is a tool we have rarely used as a district,” Burke said. “I won’t say we won’t. I can’t recall a time we have used it in the last five years.”
The district officials split the attendees into five groups to discuss and document their concerns about the plans and post them on the cafeteria wall.
In an interview after the meeting, Dean said the district has not made a decision on the new campus yet, and she welcomes residents to contact her to voice their concerns.
“They have the right to feel that [way]. …. We want to hear from them,” she said, but added she could not divulge what the board discussed in executive session about the possible school sites because it is against Georgia law.