Adair Park vacant school's sale caught in crossfire over APS/Beltline debt

Residents urge resolution so historic building can be given second life

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Photo credit: Angel Poventud
The former George Adair School in Adair Park has sat empty since the mid-1970s

The former George Adair School in southwest Atlanta's Adair Park neighborhood has been shuttered since the mid-1970s. Since then residents have waited for someone to bring the building back to life. Or simply fall apart from neglect.

That's changed in recent months after developer Stan Sugarman won a competitive bid process to buy the circa 1911 school. The building sits a few blocks from the soon-under-construction Westside Trail near the neighborhood's eponymous park. It's one of 12 properties that Atlanta Public Schools is looking to unload.

"We’re excited about the redevelopment of that building," says Randy Gibbs, the president of Adair Park Today. "It’s beautiful and could add a great value. We don’t want it to continue to be neglected or deteriorate."

But some red tape and a thorny and divisive political dispute with no end in sight is getting in the way of selling the property.

The city, which once oversaw the school system, still holds the deed to the property — one of several that's tied up in the ongoing dispute over missed Atlanta Beltline payments to the school system. The city currently owes approximately $13.5 million.

APS' plan to sell off select properties to boost revenue, which lost momentum during the Great Recession, is again showing signs of life. The Adair school has been considered one of the most prime properties. In addition to being a historic building, the structure sits in the middle of one of several neighborhoods in southwest Atlanta that's seeing new investment and residents.

"As people drive through the neighborhood or visit they’ll say, That’s a beautiful building but it’d be even better if it had a useful purpose — or a purpose that was conducive to the surrounding environment and neighbors," Gibbs says. "It has great potential but is just a void."

At Monday's APS board of education meeting, Supetintendent Meria Carstarphen said the city recently informed the system that it would not transfer the deeds. According to the AJC, the system made the request to City Hall in October.

“We thought we could get the deeds of those properties to sell them,” the superintendent said, according to the Saporta Report. “We got the deeds for two but not one. They told us they are no longer going to receive our requests to get the deeds for these.”

A spokeswoman for Mayor Kasim Reed, who's publicly jousted with former Superintendent Erroll Davis, Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, and some parents about the late-payment dispute, says "this is not a new issue."

“Since 1996, the City of Atlanta has held the deeds to a number vacant elementary schools, including Adair," Spokeswoman Anne Torres said in a statement. "More recently, the transfer of these vacant properties was proposed as part of a global solution to the APS/BeltLine dispute by the previous Superintendent, Erroll Davis.”

After this morning's State of the City address, Reed told reporters that Carstarphen is "inexperienced in Atlanta and doesn't know what she's talking about unfortunately... I'm not the first mayor not to turn over the deeds. So clearly there's a reason why they haven't been turned over."

Reed echoed what he's said before: that the city and APS are working on a "global solution" to resolve the dispute.

"If she'd done her homework, she would have seen that Superintendent Erroll Davis, her predecessor, when we were discussing settling the APS case, included transferring the deeds as a part of the global settlement," the mayor said. "There's nothing new there. ... It's an unfortunate political stunt, but I'm used to that."

Gibbs says he and other residents want "whatever action is necessary... to ensure the sale and redevelopment of this property can continue."

"Any action that the mayor or APS can take to advance the sale of this property would be greatly appreciated by the residents of Adair Park," Gibbs says. "If we can be a part of a solution, then bring us to the table."