February 22, 2010 Milton - The Fulton County Board of Education cleared a major hurdle in the construction of the Bethany Bend high school site with the approval of site variances by Milton.
Fulton officials were seeking two variances to "allow minor encroachments into the stream buffers associated with intermittent streams" on the property site. The variances impact about one-tenth of one acre on the 65 acre site.
In a letter to the Milton zoning board, school architect Robert Sussenbach wrote the site design has gone through many versions in its effort to minimize the need for variances.
The site was originally approved for a 187-home subdivision and had gone through the early stages of development before the plan was abandoned two years ago and the property sold to the Fulton County School System. The Bethany Bend high school is on schedule to open in August 2012.
Sussenbach noted the encroachments were partly the result of complying with stipulations handed down by Milton. The city asked the school system to provide access for a potential school entrance off Ga. 9. The school system does not now own the connecting parcel of land. To accommodate this request, architects shifted the stadium to the north, resulting in the running track and retaining wall encroaching on the wetlands by .04 acres.
Sussenbach said the school system has received approval for the encroachment by the Army Corps of Engineers for the wetlands disturbance.
Milton's fire marshal also required an access road around the entire perimeter of the school buildings for fire truck access. This road and accompanying retaining wall will cause encroachment into the 75-foot buffer by 0.03 acres. Fulton Schools also asked for variances to encroach into stream buffers with the placement of a roadway to the athletic field complex. The variance covers .06 acres, for a total variance allowance of .13 acres.
After more than two hours of discussion, including consideration of deferring the vote, the request for variances was approved on a 5-2 vote by the Milton Zoning Board. The members also considered a letter from a community organization urging denial of the request.
In a letter from Protect Milton, chairwoman Lisa Cauley said the Fulton County Board of Education failed to perform "due diligence" before purchasing the site to determine if there would be negative impacts to the environment.
"We are especially concerned about the request to encroach into the stream. This request of the Army Corps of Engineers would allow the FCBOE engineers to destroy the stream bed by piping and filling this intermittent stream,"wrote Cauley.
Cauley also headed the opposition to the original site of the high school off Freemanville Road several years ago. The prior site was purchased with the intent to build both a middle school and high school – similar to the Milton High and Northwestern Middle setup – but was determined to be too small for both campuses. Plans are for the middle school to open in 2013, with any excess lands sold off.
High School on Track for 2012
Despite the rampant rumors of the high school's demise or delay, school officials say the new high school is on track for a 2012 completion. Funding woes are plaguing the school system, but the funding for the construction of the Bethany Bend high school is contained within the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST).
While SPLOST revenues have fallen below projections, construction costs have also declined with the lagging economy. Alpharetta School Board member Katie Reeves noted the Bethany Bend high school site will likely be the last major project completed in the current SPLOST cycle which ends on 2012. For that reason, it is very important the project stays on track.
"Our planners are telling us that Milton High School will be out of room for more portables by 2012,"said Reeves. "The only option will be to bring in bulldozers and start carving out more space. It is so important that we work closely with the city of Milton to keep on schedule."
Milton High School is projected to have 2,700 students by 2012 in a school built for 1,950. City officials note they are working closely with the school system to ensure the needs of both the community and the students are being considered.
"The City of Milton and Board Education each have their own set of responsibilities in this process and both are moving forward with those responsibilities,"said Lynn Tully, Milton's director of Community Development. "It is a positive partnership that will result in a win for the community."
With the variances approved, the school system will soon be applying for a Land Disturbance Permit which will allow construction to begin in June.
The final issue between the city of Milton and the Fulton School System is to work out a traffic plan that is agreeable to both sides. Patrick Burke, chief operations officer for Fulton Schools, noted the school system cannot legally fund offsite improvements on land it does not own, but is working collaboratively with the city of Milton to come up with solutions for traffic flow.