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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
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.