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For sale: 1 nearly empty elementary school

Rivers Elementary has 17 students, 29 school employees

Somebody wants to buy the nearly new but almost empty Rivers Elementary School on Sandy Creek Road. And the cash-strapped Fayette County Board of Education may sell the school site if the price is right.

Superintendent Jeff Bearden let the cat out of the bag last week when he told members of his advisory committee that the potential property deal announced, but not identified, at the Oct. 15 meeting of the Board of Education was for Rivers Elementary School northwest of Fayetteville.

It was at the Oct. 15 school board meeting that Bearden recommended, and the board approved, putting the work of the redistricting committee on hold until an undisclosed potential property deal could be addressed.

Yet two weeks later Bearden shared with members of his Community Advisory Committee that the target property was Rivers Elementary School. The information that “the proposed purchase/lease purchase is for Rivers” was posted on Nov. 1 on the Facebook page “Take Action for Public Education.”

Rivers was built in 2009 at a cost of $10 million for land and buildings. It currently houses fewer than 20 students.

Bearden on Nov. 2 confirmed that he gave the school system’s Community Advisory Committee that information at a recent meeting.

“I told the Community Advisory Committee that Rivers is the property under consideration. I have not yet released the name of the potential buyer. At this point, they do not want their name released and I do not want to do anything that may potentially jeopardize the possible transaction,” Bearden said.

It is currently unknown why Bearden passed the information to the advisory group.

Meantime, Bearden at the Oct. 15 school board meeting said that due to a potential property deal that had surfaced and might impact redistricting he was recommending that the work of the redistricting committee be put on hold. Bearden said it could take a couple of months to determine if the property deal would be finalized. Bearden kept his remarks brief and did not identify the property under consideration at that time.

The redistricting committee was formed during the summer to develop and recommend student attendance boundaries based on the two options identified by the school board. Option 1 included the potential closure of Hood Avenue Primary School and Fayetteville Intermediate School along with Fayette Middle School. The idea was for Hood Avenue and FIS to be transitioned to Rivers. Option 2 dealt with the potential closure of Brooks and Tyrone elementary schools and the closure of Fayette Middle.

So how many students and staff will be affected if the Rivers Elementary deal goes through? School system spokesperson Melinda Berry-Dreisbach on Tuesday said Rivers is currently populated by 17 special education students. That number includes 4 at the elementary level, 2 at the middle school level and 11 at the high school level.

Also at Rivers are approximately 18 special education teachers, coordinators and administrators and 11 non-teaching employees.

Rivers is located at the intersection of Sandy Creek Road and the new West Fayetteville Bypass. The area in the immediate vicinity of the school is also the location of a possible future development project identified more than a year ago as the Rivers Hamlet.

The hamlet — which exists only on preliminary drawings paid for by the Fayette County Development Authority four years ago — is one of six potential development areas on 2,000 acres north of Ga. Highway 54 and stretching from east of Sandy Creek Road to Tyrone Road.

As envisioned for potential development, the Rivers Hamlet would total approximately 300 acres that includes 28 acres of parks, 61 acres of farmland, 8 acres for an orchard and 5 acres for a farmer’s market, 32 acres of open space and an undisclosed number of homes.

The school system also owns approximately 60 acres north of Hwy. 54 and situated between the West Fayetteville Bypass and Tyrone Road. The site was purchased in 2002 and in recent years was proposed for the location for the county’s sixth high school.

Large landowners several years ago, in conjunction with the Fayette County Development Authority and other parties, were in tentative discussions to have the large area developed as a master plan arrangement of “hamlets” and “neighborhoods” in areas totaling 1,000 acres while leaving the remaining 1,000 acres as open space.

The housing bust and economic downturn have kept those plans strictly in the theory stage for several years.

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