by: Richard Belcher Updated:
ATLANTA - The Atlanta Public School system is weeks away from completing the most expensive public school in state history.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher ran the numbers for weeks on the new North Atlanta High School. The total cost will be just under $150,000,000.
It costs $56,500,000 for the property on Northside Parkway, $82,634,808 for the main buildings and $8,759,181 for the athletic fields.
The latest expense is $13,000,000 for, among other things, the removal of unexpected underground rock.
That’s a total of $147,893,989 for about 1,650 students.
State Rep. Ed Lindsey is skeptical.
“These numbers raise a lot of serious questions for me as a taxpayer,” Lindsey said.
Reide Onley is with the group North Atlanta Parents for Public School and will have two children at the school this fall.
“You're looking at a very atypical school,” Onley said. “It's not the same school as what you'd see in another county.”
Belcher wanted to compare construction costs to other school districts. Because the cost of land is so expensive in Atlanta, Belcher compared only the construction costs of the buildings. It’s costing $82,634,808 for North Atlanta’s classrooms, offices and the gym. Here are similar figures for other metro Atlanta schools:
- Locust Grove High School (Henry County): $37,178,024
- Arabia Mountain High (DeKalb County): $34,763,000
- Allatoona High School (Cobb County): $44,184,467
- Banneker High School (Fulton County): $44,831,383
- Archer High School (Gwinnett County): $50,610,000
North Atlanta’s athletic facilities cost notably more than other local high schools as well.
The football stadium at Gwinnett’s Archer High cost an additional $5,918,000, and Locust Grove High got a stadium for $4,577,382. Meanwhile, APS is spending $8,579,181 for athletic fields, and there is no stadium.
Reide Onley said taxpayers are not surprised by the cost of a facility he calls visionary.
“Let's do something special here because we will attract good students, good faculty, good administration and hopefully a great superintendent,” Onley said.
North Atlanta’s graduation rate in 2012 was not quite 61 percent and only 33 percent of high school graduates there were eligible for the HOPE scholarships in 2011.
“If we have graduation rates of 90-95 percent, I’ll start think that it's worth it. Anything short of that, I’m going to start thinking we've built a Taj Mahal,” Lindsey said.
Belcher tried to get an APS representative to defend the cost, but no administrators or board members agreed to speak with him.
Here’s a detailed breakdown of metro Atlanta School costs obtained by Belcher:
North Atlanta HS
Land cost $56,500,000
Athletic facilities $8,759,181(fields only, no stadium)
507,093 square feet
Construction total (less land and athletic facilities) $82,634,808 ($162.96 per square foot)
Enrollment 1650 ($50,082 per student)
Land cost $9,951,708
Athletic facilities (not available)
325,000 square feet
Construction total $44,184,467 ($135.87 per square foot)
Enrollment 1731 ($25,525 per student)
Locust Grove HS
Land cost $577,412
Athletic facilities $4,577,382 (stadium)
287,326 square feet
Construction total (less athletics and land) $37,178,024 ($129.39 per square foot)
Enrollment 1130 ($32,901 per student)
No land cost
Athletic facilities $6,084,680
339,617 square feet
Construction total (less athletic facilities) $44,831,383 ($132.01 per square foot)
Enrollment 1310 ($34,222 per student)
Land cost $9,292,025 (includes site for future elementary school)
Athletic facilities $5,918,000 (stadium)
439,873 square feet
Construction total $50,610,000 (less land and athletic facilities) ($115.05 per square foot)
Enrollment 2101 ($24,089 per student)
Arabia Mountain HS
227,670 square feet
Construction cost $34,763,000 ($153.69/ per square foot)
Enrollment 1473 ($23,600/student)
*In 2010, DeKalb County provided higher numbers for Arabia Mountain High School. That happened at the height of the criminal investigation of DeKalb’s construction program. Former superintendent Crawford Lewis and his former construction manager had just been indicted for racketeering. The 2010 numbers provided were $1.77 per square foot. In 2013 the provided cost dropped to $153.69 per square foot.