Future of Dawson Street School up in the air

Published 7:47 pm Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The LaGrange City Council continued its debate over the future of the Dawson Street School property on Tuesday, and while the future of the property still remains in question, the council did agree on the next step in the decision-making process — to consult the community.

During the Tuesday city council work session, the city council once again discussed the proposed demolition of the Dawson Street school building, reviewing an itemized bid for the building that has been ruled unsafe for use. The council also considered again the request from Hillside Montessori for the land in order to build a new campus for its expanding student body.

However, with the demolition costs sitting near half a million dollars, even council members who have said they would like to see a school operating in that neighborhood again were hesitant to give the property to the non-profit school immediately following the expenditure.

“My problem with this is, I think it needs to be taken down,” Council Member Willie Edmondson said. “I have no problem with that, but the problem I have is spending that much money on taking it down, and then we are going to give it away. That is city money, and we are supposed to be good stewards of city money. I was hoping maybe the Montessori or some other entity would partner with us … to see if someone would help us defray some of that cost.”

Council Member Nathan Gaskin suggested several possible partnerships for the property’s use, but he said that he wanted to hear from the Three-Points Community before action is taken.

“I won’t make any decisions until I hear from the Three Points Community,” Gaskin asked. 

Gaskin asked Hillside Montessori Board Member Jeff Lukken if it would be possible to swap some of the other land offered to the school near the interstate in exchange for the Dawson Street school property. Lukken said the owners offering the land are doing so in order to receive the benefits of a school near other developments and would be unlikely to agree to giving the land to the city in a land swap. 

Council Member Tom Gore asked for the pros and cons of locating the school at the Dawson Street property versus the other land Hillside Montessori has been offered by the interstate and near a future DASH development. Lukken said the advantage of the Dawson Street property is that it’s in a neighborhood and would allow students to interact with the community and would offer possible benefits to nearby residents.

“There are residential homes around where the students can go out and take part in the community activities,” Lukken said. “They can have cookouts in our new building, a new community center that we would share with the community. We want to make sure that our play ground is big enough and open enough that everyone in the community comes and share in the playground. So, we really think it is better for the students that they are in the middle of a community, which is why we like the Dawson Street idea.”

Edmondson said that he hopes that underprivileged children will have a place at the school, so that it will not become an elitist school. Lukken said scholarships and discounts are currently available to students, and he said Hillside Montessori is also working on establishing an endowment for students from underprivileged families.

LaGrange Utilities Director Patrick Bowie said that the value of the land would be paid back to the city over time through utilities on the new property use. This payment would be in direct contrast to its current state, which Mayor Jim Thornton called a liability.

“As soon as you do the demo and get some development on it — whether it is a school or something else — then you do begin to get utility revenue coming in,” Bowie said. “So, there is some payback over time of that cost.”

The city council instructed city staff to reach out to the Three Points Community group for its thoughts on the future use on the Dawson Street School property, but no formal action was taken on Tuesday.

Other items covered during the LaGrange City Council meeting and work session on Tuesday included: 

  • The city council unanimously approved a modification to its policy for natural gas service outside the city limits, which Kelsey said had proven ineffective. According to Kelsey, the city will continue to offer natural gas outside of city limits when it is profitable to do so.
  • Edmondson thanked city staff for their work on the sidewalk on Colquitt Street. He also complemented other projects within the city on their progress.
  • The city council viewed a video on The Thread, which will have a ribbon cutting for its newest segment on Thursday at 10 a.m.

The LaGrange City Council will meet again on Tuesday, Oct. 8 at 5:30 p.m. at 308 Ridley Ave.