Atlanta Public Schools has seen its share of challenges in recent years, including a widespread cheating scandal that resulted in the indictments of 35 faculty members and administrators. However, the news coming out of this large school district more recently has been much more positive. The district has just opened the largest and most expensive high schools in Georgia in hopes of raising the district’s image.
North Atlanta High School
The New York Times reports the new school, which was constructed in an old I.B.M. building, cost the district a cool $147 million. With 11 stories, a massive parking lot, and breathtaking views, this new high school is sure to become a gold standard for the district. In an area where the average high school costs just over $38 million to construct, North Atlanta High School is sure to catch the attention of residents across the state.
This video shows the demolition of the old IBM building.
Set in one of the wealthiest regions in the state, North Atlanta High School will see around 1,400 students come from wealthy families. However, the school will also boast a diverse student population that is around one-half black, 27 percent white, and 20 percent Hispanic. While some students will come from affluent backgrounds, others will be homeless. The school will also have to grapple with low graduation rates that often accompany such a diverse student body.
“If there was ever a model for an urban high school, this is it,” Howard E. Taylor, the new principal of the high school, told The Root.
Currently, the graduation rate for the old North Atlanta High School location was just 61 percent. The goal is to move students into the flashy new building – and a graduation rate of 90 percent. The new school wants to show that a traditional public school can be a viable alternative to the charter or private school model.
Where the Money Went
The new building boasts 400,000 square feet of instructional space, according to the school’s website. The upper floors will be home to four smaller learning communities, where an extensive list of international studies, Advancement Placement classes, and business courses will be included. The lower three floors will house the all-school amenities, including a cafeteria that resembles a high-end food court, a gymnasium, and an auditorium that seats 600.
The school also features a FieldTurf athletic field, a broadcast, and video center, and extensive performing arts facilities. Security was also a primary focus of the district, and the school is equipped with fences surrounding the adjacent lake, impact-proof glass throughout, and 423 security cameras. The massive parking deck accommodates up to 900 vehicles.
This video offers a virtual tour of North Atlanta High School.
New Building Not Setting Well with Some Taxpayers
Although many parents and students are excited about the new school building, not all the taxpayers in the area share their enthusiasm. WSBTV reports that some lawmakers are also concerned about the cost of the school, and skeptical of whether the money was spent as wisely as it should have been. A breakdown of the spending, according to WSBTV, includes around $56.5 million for the property, $82.6 million for the buildings, and $8.7 million for the athletic fields.
Add in an unexpected $13 million that went to removing underground rock and other incidentals, and the total price quickly escalates to the $147 million figure.
“These numbers raise a lot of serious questions for me as a taxpayer,” State Rep. Ed Lindsey told WSBTV.
Those numbers particularly stand out when they are compared to the construction costs of some of the following Atlanta Public Schools’ construction projects, as cited in the WSBTV report:
- Allatoona High School in Cobb County - $44.1 million
- Arabia Mountain High School in DeKalb County - $34.7 million
- Archer High School in Gwinnett County - $50.6 million
- Banneker High School in Fulton County - $44.8 million
- Locust Grove High School in Henry County - $37.1 million
Lindsey said that if the school proves its worth, the money spent will be acceptable. For Lindsay, that means graduation rates fluctuate between 90 and 95 percent.
“Anything short of that, and I’m going to start thinking we’ve built a Taj Mahal,” Lindsey said.
New Gun Range Concerns Some Parents
Another concern voiced by some of the parents who will be sending students to the school is the addition of an indoor shooting range. According to the Huffington Post, the shooting range will be used by the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program and the rifle team. Although this type of facility was much more common in high schools a number of years ago, its presence has been decreasing as concerns over school violence have increased.
A school spokesperson sought to ease concerns by telling the Huffington Post that the students will be using compressed-air pellet rifles at the shooting range. They will also be outfitted with premiere safety gear while working on the range.
One parent said she will probably ask more questions about the new shooting range, out of safety concerns. However, she also expressed confidence to the Huffington Post that school administrators would take the proper steps to keep students safe. Others voiced approval for the shooting range, appreciating the fact that students would be taught to handle firearms in a responsible manner.
The school recently held an open house to allow parents and students a chance to get their fill of the new school before the academic year began. The new school year revved up on August 6, allowing students to get a firsthand experience of all the amenities their new school building will offer.
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