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The Future of Fernbank School

A group of concerned parents and neighbors met last week to discuss the Fernbank Elementary School site plans created by architects working with the DeKalb County Board of Education. As many in the community know, Fernbank will be demolished and a new structure built on the site. The DeKalb County School System has developed a prototype design for Fernbank and six other elementary schools in the system.

Currently, Fernbank students attend classes at the Avondale Middle School where they will remain for 18-24 months. However, the school board earlier projected that construction would be underway by now. While parents naturally would like their children back in the neighborhood as soon as possible, the board of education’s plans have long-term environmental and aesthetic ramifications for the community. For this reason, many community members would like the school board to consider alternatives that work with the prototype. They hope to initiate a constructive dialogue to address concerns, assisting the school board and designers in developing creative concepts that maintain the prototype while helping to reduce construction time and costs.

The DHCA has long been committed to the preservation of the Fernbank Forest and careful review of new construction. The DeKalb School Board’s plan entails importing approximately 25,000 cubic feet of structural fill and reconfiguration of the topography which will affect the watershed and the streetscape along Heaton Park Drive.

We encourage our readers to follow the links below to learn more about the project. There is a description of the site plan by the DeKalb County Board of Education as well as information compiled by the neighborhood group and an alternative configuration of the site design by several Fernbank parents.

If you would like to participate in the dialogue, please contact

Neighborhood Concerns about the Prototype Design

Unique Site Characteristics: Size, Forest, Sloped Topography

  • The Fernbank site has only 5.5 acres of buildable property with over 7 acres of forested land.
  • The Fernbank site is not flat. It slopes a total of 50 feet from Heaton Park Drive to the CSX Railroad line, with 30 of the 50 feet between the street and the play area. The prototype design, even when modified, does not work with the natural slope of the land.

Forest Removal, Extensive Fill Dirt, and Possible Construction Delays

  • To accommodate parking and separate bus and carpool traffic, the prototype design either removes 3.5 acres of trees or requires extensive fill dirt and retaining walls while still removing 2.15 acres of trees.
  • 3,400 dump truckloads of fill will be brought in. Site preparation alone would take a minimum of 3 months, assuming good weather and 10 trucks per hour.

Safety and Aesthetics: Playground, Retaining Walls, View, and Detention Pond

  • The rear of the building would be past the existing gazebo, thus cutting the playground to half its original size. (Remember that the school population will increase while the play space would decrease.)
  • The extensive fill means that the rear of the school will be 20 feet higher than the playground, requiring a retaining wall of that height.
  • The new building will be 5.5 feet lower than the existing building, so the view from Heaton Park Drive will be of the rooftop of the single-story part of the structure.
  • The view from several classroom areas will be of a retaining wall.
  • Several areas will have drops more than 14 feet with limited 42” rails.
  • Part of the forest will be removed for a ¼ acre detention pond with a 6-foot chain fence and 120 feet of pipeline to slow storm water runoff.

More: Fernbank School Analysis

Neighborhood Goals

The neighborhood values the school and its environment. Our goal is to work with DeKalb County to devise a solution that will meet its requirements for building design, parking, and traffic, as well as the following neighborhood goals.

  • Preservation of most of the forested area
  • Attractive streetscape and view
  • A safe and reasonably sized playground
  • Sufficient parking and good traffic flow
  • Minimal disruption to neighborhood during construction
  • Timely reopening of the school

Our Proposal: Fernbank Alternative Design

  • Saves the forest and integrates the school building with Heaton Park Drive (creating a more pleasing view) by using the sloping topography and shifting the building placement.
  • Cuts by more than half the amount of fill dirt required, thus saving money and construction time, minimizing neighborhood disruption, and reducing the number and size of retaining walls.
  • Connects the school and the Fernbank Science Center through shared parking, while still meeting DeKalb County’s required number of spaces.
  • Implements urban design streetscape and traffic calming features to promote pedestrian safety.
  • Reduces the expanse of paved surfaces, thus decreasing the size of the detention area required. 
  • Retains greater playground space for the expanding school population.

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  1. david neujahr #

    I actually prefer the design as approved. Many of the issues raised can be mitigated within the confines of the approved design. The play area will actually increase as the trailers in the current play area will be removed. Given that the Avondale Middle is currently being used for the Fernbank kids, delaying the move by a year will actually increase the carbon footprint compared to staying on the timeline. I am sure there could be better proposals, but now it is too late.

  2. Tom #

    Does anyone have an update on the progress of these modifications and the construction schedule for the new Fernback school? Thx!

  3. Gene Barger #

    Once you study the alternative design plan, it’s a “no brainer.” It will actually speed up the construction due to the less time required for site prep which is very weather dependent. It will also save more of the old growth forest and provide the kids twice the playground area. With the possibility of eventually reaching an enrollment of 1200, the kids will need as much space as possible unless your idea of recess/PE is simply “running in place” or doing “jumping jacks.”

  4. Kip Wright #

    I coulda told ya this was gonna be a mess. “Look before you leap.” They’ve already leapt. Good luck on fixing the plans.

    • Eric Mintz #

      As I understand it, the County has already agreed to some modifications of the original plan inn response to comments from concerned residents who value the unique value that the accessible Fernbank Forest tracts surrounding the Fernbank school add to Druid Hills and to the quality of life of Atlanta and Decatur citizens. Further modifications to the plan can preserve more of the forest, save the County tax dollars in transportation costs for landfill, and provide a healthier environment for Fernbank students when they return and for our communities. To help ensure a healthier, more environmentally sound future for our children and our communities, we need to continue advocating for construction of a new school that honors the distinguished past of the Fernbank Forest, and meets the present and future needs of students, their families, and surrounding communities for generations to come.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. DHCA Endorses Resolution in Support of Fernbank School Green Campus Proposal | Druid Hills Civic Association
  2. DRUID HILLS RESIDENTS! | Druid Hills Civic Association
  3. THE FERNBANK PROTOTYPE: A regrettable loss of trees and green space | Druid Hills Civic Association

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