Cobb schools proposed land purchase sparks controversy

Cobb County’s school district is negotiating to buy 35 acres that officials say will be used to build an elementary school, but residents say they don’t think the district is being honest about plans for the site.

The $9.3 million tract of land is more than two times larger than state requirements for elementary school construction, and is also twice as large as the average amount of land upon which the district’s 67 elementary schools are built. The school board says the new school on Terrell Mill Road would replace Brumby Elementary.

But residents say they fear the district really means to build two schools on the land — an elementary and a middle school. They say that would create a traffic nightmare, and that the school board needs to be open about their intentions.

“The major concern is the lack of transparency,” said Michelle Ansley, who lives adjacent to the site. “That’s really the huge crux of the problem.”

In interviews this week, school board chairwoman Kathleen Angelucci and vice chairman Randy Scamihorn said that there have been no discussions about the potential of building two schools on the land. “No board members have talked to me about that,” Angelucci said.

But Cobb County officials say the school district is considering two schools on the site.

An email to a resident near the site from an engineer in the Cobb County Department of Transportation says the school district has requested a traffic study for Terrell Mill Road. That study will contemplate increased traffic from two schools, according to the email.

“… At the request of (the) Cobb County School District, our department is conducting a traffic study of the proposed Terrell Mill Road site for possible relocation of Brumby Elementary School and a replacement middle school for the east Cobb area,” says the March 11 email from traffic engineer Jane Stricklin.

When told of the email, both Angelucci and Scamihorn said they were not aware that the district had requested the study.

“If that is the case, the district may have requested it, but as the superintendent has not made a recommendation for two schools, obviously the board has not considered or acted on it,” Angelucci said.

Scamihorn said the district, which is the second-largest in metro Atlanta, wants to buy the large tract of land because there are no other options in the Brumby school zone.

“Our first priority was to find a piece of land that could accommodate at least one school,” Scamihorn said. “We are extremely limited in our options.”

Ansley said that may be true, but the district also plans to replace an east Cobb middle school and the site could accomplish both “at the expense of people in the neighborhood.”

“It’s time for some honest discussion about why the land was purchased,” she said.

District spokesman Jay Dillon said there are other examples of schools being built on larger parcels. Pickett’s Mill Elementary was constructed on about 40 acres in 2008. But it is one of only three elementary schools constructed on more than 28 acres.

“The school district certainly will consider all options to maximize the use of the property it owns,” Dillon said. “Ultimately, the decision (about) what gets built on a particular piece of land rests with the Board of Education.”

The school board has also announced its intention to replace a second elementary school in east Cobb — Mountain View Elementary. That is drawing criticism from residents in southern Cobb County, who say Harmony Leland Elementary school there is in more dire need of replacement.

David Berny, who has a son in first grade at Harmony Leland and a daughter who will be in kindergarten next year, said he agrees that Brumby needs to be replaced. But the decision to replace the newer and less-crowded Mountain View has him frustrated.

Mountain View was built in 1970 and is 31 students over capacity and uses no trailers, according to district statistics. Harmony Leland, built in 1951, is more than 160 students over capacity and has seven trailers on its site.

“Obviously, they’re putting east Cobb before anybody else,” Berny said. “They’re saying east Cobb kids are more important.”

School board members have said they hope to make enough money selling the Brumby and Mountain View land to build a new elementary school in south Cobb. Board member David Morgan, who represents Harmony Leland, said during a meeting last month that ignoring south Cobb isn’t fair.

“It’s hard for me to construct in my mind how that is not a top priority for the district,” Morgan said.

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