CSD in Discussion with City To Buy Beacon Hill For Potential Central Office Location

With CSD enrollment continuing to rise at a rapid pace, it looks all but certain that CSD’s current central office location, Westchester Elementary, will soon need to revert back to its original use.  So CSD staff is already looking into new Central Office locations.

From the Superintendent Phyllis Edwards’ letter (under Superintendent’s Report on the agenda) to the Decatur School Board prior to the April 10th meeting…

We continue to meet with City of Decatur personnel regarding the possibility of renovating Beacon Hill and having that become the School System Central Office. There is a joint meeting scheduled between the City Commissioners and CSD School Board on April 16th in the City Commission Room at 6:30. You will hear plans for the complex at that time. We do not have firm information yet; having only met with lead players and legal departments to see if it is possible for CSD to buy and own a renovated building.


29 thoughts on “CSD in Discussion with City To Buy Beacon Hill For Potential Central Office Location”

  1. Wow. Word has been out about this around town but it’s so much more exciting seeing it on DM! Beacon Hill makes a lot of sense as a location for CSD Central Admin:
    – Central and historic location at former school
    – Walking distance to most of the schools plus lunch!
    – Close proximity to Decatur Housing Authority staff, the Community Center, and homes may increase CSD and DHA interaction

    But I do wonder about the Police Department and Ebster facilities. Ebster facilities and fields are important to DHA families, no?

  2. So, what happens to the absurd amount of water that gathers in the parking lot after a rain and leeches into the offices on the south side of the building?

    1. Revenue-Negative Household (a.k.a., My unruly brood is here to clog your sidewalks and erode your tax base.) says:

      French drain?

    2. CSD is used to water issues. All CSD schools, including apparently the original Beacon Hill School, were built on soggy land. See old posts about Clairemont Elementary mud grounds and Westchester Flood Plain.

  3. Ooooh. Just had a thought–Can vehicles get up on Ebster field? CSD is used to on lawn parking. 🙂

  4. Not only police are affected here– also the arts. There is a neat exisiting redevelopment plan on file at the City for Beacon Hill that was going to revitalize the police station while also providing for a lot of community arts space. There was also a neat rendering for part of the building front face and courtyard front area to be a screening area for community movies… maybe CSD can keep some of those elements? I would really love to see a CSD building that functions for the broader community. A lot of us don’t have children, happily support the schools, but would also like to get a direct benefit/use out of school buildings.

    1. Excellent point. I was wondering about how this would fit in with the proposed Beacon Hill Complex master plan: http://www.decaturga.com/index.aspx?page=367. The City website says that no funding has been identified for the master plan so I suppose that leaves the site open for purchase. But maybe CSD’s needs could be incorporated into the master plan. I don’t think that CSD Admin needs that much office space. A lot of the spaces in Westchester, e.g. gym and cafeteria, aren’t used much. Perhaps the proposed gym for the Active Living area could also be used for School Board and other large CSD meetings and trainings. This could be a neat site that benefitted both the school and the non-school community and facilitated interaction and collaboration between City police and active living departments, the arts community, CSD, and Decatur Housing Authority. If they throw in a NYC style bagel shop and a children’s shoe store, I will be a very happy citizen…..

    2. I would love to see the school administrators dancing with the African drumming class which has happened at the Beacon Hill gym every Saturday for years.

  5. There should be a discussion of this plan. Hopefully it does not need to be “all or nothing” of any of these ideas.

  6. At Home and macarolina, completely agree with you–if there is a good plan to incorporate the arts plan with the DCS offices, it would be an awesome use of space. And it seems like it’s just only a matter of time that the shackles of Westchester will be released! FREE WESTCHESTER!!

    1. And I hope they free the principal’s office too. There used to be the cutest little principal’s office right next to the front door with a window out the front so the principal could see the kids and families coming and leaving the school. It had an outer area for the school secretary with an equally good view. The principal’s office was a homey, welcoming, not scary place. I won’t have little children going in those doors, too much time has passed, but I hope someone will.

  7. I think the discussion about the value of renovating Beacon is very interesting and sounds like something the community would like to see. Opening Westchester again in combination is a big carrot.
    I would like to remind everyone that there seems to be few limits to CSD administrative services re-inventing” itself every few years and spending a LOT of money to do it. A bit of history…
    CSD & Westchester had only just completed its SPLOST renovation when a former supt. worked to have it consolidated with other schools and ,again, renovated into admin offices. I don’t recall the numbers, but it was over $1mm all told– I think, could have been a lot more.
    That decision really hurt the local community and if getting Westchester back as a school is an end game here, most folks would be for it.
    My point is, though, that this school system is small by most standards and it spends a lot of money by any standard. I would like to see a long-term plan from the administration on just how much space they think they need for administrative services and school kids going forward. What are the expected demographics? Will Beacon be needed as a school again in 5-or 10 years? Sooner? This relocation to existing CSD buildings has not been a long-term fix judging by the fact they are moving after only about, what, about 10 years, and there are no new buildings in the system, just students. Isn’t this really about school population, and not admin services outgrowing Westchester?
    Areas I would want answers to include(only because it usually costs a ton of money): I would be concerned if admin staff expands.
    Are they hiring more administrative staff, for the new location, if so, for what purposes?
    Are they attempting to centralize services that are not presently at Westchester and need more space to do it? If so, why do they need to centralize in such a small district?
    Can technology overcome any of their issues that would preclude moving?
    How much will they spend on outfitting Beacon ? Where will the funds come from? How much will it cost to re fit Westchester for school rooms again? Given the economy we are in, we have to get $1.20 for every dollar spent. The interest on the financing should approach zero. The choices need to be laid out for all to see.
    It’s a pretty big carrot to stick out there—giving the community Westchester back as a school location again, and adding value to the Beacon Hill location.

    I think we need to make sure it doesn’t cost a fortune and, if this is the way to go, that the budgets are detailed, the reasons are clear, the plan is concise and transparent.And, that admin has a permanent home.

    Believe it or not, this is still a very weak economy. People’s job security is uneven, taxes have never been higher, let’s get full value for this change, because after all, Westchester should never have been closed in the first place.

    1. One correction: The closing of Westchester happened under the current Superintendent. Perhaps the former Superintendent, Dr. Ida Love, advocated for it but I don’t remember that. I remember the community study circles that Dr. Love convened but nothing seemed to come out of them directly.

      I used to be puzzled by the millions of dollars spent on construction in CSD, even during a time that the official position was enrollment was declining and consolidation was more efficient. I’ve come to realize, even if don’t understand the details, that construction dollars are fairly easy for CSD to access through SPLOST and perhaps for other reasons that I don’t understand. Operating funds are another story. State support is declining and increases in millage rates are unpopular. So solutions that build using funds unrelated to state DOE funding and local millage are naturally favored. Of course, now our transportation costs are a higher proportion of operating expenses due to how we built but even that does not yet seem to be a tipping factor. I’ve heard folks warn about long-term consequences of how we’ve funded our construction and they don’t sound good but I also don’t understand them well enough to articulate them. We Americans are pretty good at short-term solutions and not so wise about long-term impacts.

      1. Dr Love did favor consolidation of schools although I don’t recall her ever outlining a specific plan detailing which school(s) would close/merge.

        For both superintendents, I think the issue you mention about operating funds was a driving force behind consolidation plans. As I understand it, the state funding formula for classroom operating funds favors the county and regional districts with large schools. CSD schools are too small to qualify for the maximum state funding for classroom operating funds .

        I think it works that small systems who can’t meet the big school sizes get the most from the state funding formulas when all students in a given grade are in the same school. That was the rationale behind creation of the 4/5 . CSD can get maximum classroom funds for grades 4 – 12 because all students in those grades are together in the same building. When state classroom max sizes are met, the state will fund another classroom.

        I believe the CSD K-3s are still too small to get that benefit. When one school reaches the max size in a given grade, the state expects the district to shift students to another school that is not maxed out at that grade level rather than giving more funds to open a new classroom. That means CSD must fund the entire cost if a new classroom is created.

        I do wonder how the funding formulas work for administrative costs. I question why the CSD administration continued to grow as the budget got tighter and tighter. Maybe this too has to do with available non local funds.

        1. Re administration: I think there was a rise in administrative positions after the consolidation of 2004. Some of it was at Central Office, but some of it was at the schools which were now larger and needed more support, e.g. an asst. principal at the 4/5 and instructional coaches at all the elementary schools. Some of those who had supported the consolidation for fiscal reasons lost faith in it as they saw the cost of personnel going up. But more recently, it seems that there’s been real belt-tightening at Central Office and less admin positions, at least that’s what I hear from folks who I know and trust. And I notice a lot less parking on the lawn! The hard, hard question is how to continue to ensure high quality of instructiion for students at the same as rising enrollment but decreased administrative and classroom resources. My personal feeling is that we need to be very efficient about what new programs, initiatives, new ideas we roll out and not overwhelm our busy staff and teachers. Sometimes improving the quality of an existing sound program is the better choice than struggling through a 5-year transition to something that sounds great in meetings and reports, builds resumes, but only works for students and teachers if fully implemented with fidelity to evidence-based methods. Five years is more than the entire high school or elementary school career of a student who is a guinea pig if implementation is not efficient and thorough.

  8. I think there seems to be a bias toward building projects. Perhaps the way SPLOST works? Read the board notes for the upcoming meeting. It talks about all the construction projects. And start times! But I am waiting for another thread to start on that :-).

  9. So, seems like we could almost entirely get rid of buses at the K-5 level if we went back to a K-5 configuration, no? Are there other savings that the K-3/4-5 model gives us that are so large that they negate bus costs? We will be operating 6 school regardless of how they are configured, right?

    Are the social/educational advantages to split grades so beneficial that they outweigh the advantages of having extra money that we could save on transportation? Would the K-5 configuration simply not work b/c our enrollment fluctuates too much? What is unique about Decatur (currently… not back in the day when our schools were segregated) that makes it unworkable to have longer grade spans?

    I really am just curious, not necessarily advocating for K-5. In fact, by the time any such reconfiguration came about, all of my kids will be well beyond K-5 so it makes no difference to me personally… other than as a taxpayer. I’d just like to see the most efficient grade configuration possible given our circumstances.. the one that allows for the most money to be made available to the classrooms.

    1. Fifi, you answered a lot of my questions at the very same time that I was typing them. You must be psychic!

  10. Good Afternoon –

    There will be a joint work session of the Board of Education and the City Commission on Monday, April 16th before the regular City Commission Meeting to discuss potential changes to the Beacon Master Plan that involve the possibility of the City Schools of Decatur acquiring part of the project for their use. Police, municipal court and active living activities would remain on the site as well as a gymnasium.

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