Don’t turn Grady High’s green front lawn into a parking lot
By Maria Saporta
Forget about NIMBY. My protest is NIMFY (Not In My Front Yard).
Grady High School is planning to turn its beautiful front lawn into a parking lot.
The plans are part of the Atlanta Public School’s efforts to improve its schools and accommodate increased student demand.
It’s great news that more parents and students are attending Grady High School, where I attended high school decades ago (not to mention I live across the street).
Still, the beauty of our schools grounds must not be sacrificed as the system expands.
To their credit, I was able to meet with APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen; Larry Hoskins, chief operating officer of APS; and Alvah Hardy, APS’ executive director of facilities services to learn more about their needs and their plans.
I do sympathize with their plight– seeking to avoid redistricting the popular Grady cluster by adding a new building to the school so it can handle a growth in students.
This past year, Grady had 1,389 students. By the 2023-2024 school year, it expects to have 1,464 students. That means more teachers and more staff.
“The bottom line is we need additional capacity,” Hoskins said. “If the building is going to be bigger, there are going to be more parking spaces.”
Hardy explained that APS has a policy to provide one parking space per teacher and staff member.
“We have an urban site with limited space,” Hardy said. “It is a 19.5 acre site, which includes the Grady stadium. There really aren’t a whole lot of options about where we can build.”
APS currently has a two-phased plan for the Grady High School project. The first phase will involve relocating 10 modular classrooms from the sunken field closer to 10th Street up to the front lawn.
In order to make enough room for the 10 classrooms, APS will be cutting down seven trees on the front lawn, including one that is dead, diseased or hazardous (DDH). Another older tree on the lawn has been designated DDH and will be cut down, but it is not because of the expansion project.
Those trees will likely be cut down in the next month, and the modular classrooms will be built during the fall so students can start using them after the winter break.
Meanwhile, plans exist to build a new front entrance of the school and a new building on the part of the sunken field that now has the classroom trailers.
That expansion will cause two historic oaks to be cut down – located at the site of where the new front entrance will be. Much of the rest of the sunken field will be turned into a surface parking lot for 87 cars.
But the most offensive part of the plan involves turning Grady’s historic front lawn into a parking lot with 30 spaces for visitors and handicapped parking lot – a move that would involve cutting down even more trees. Currently, visitor and handicapped parking is along Charles Allen Drive.
“We will be replacing the trees inch for inch,” Hardy said. “I don’t love cutting down big trees.”
Grady’s front lawn – an attractive green space that’s bordered by mature trees – provides a wonderful park-like connection from the neighborhood to Piedmont Park. How could anyone believe that turning the front lawn into a surface parking lot is a good idea?
“Every design is a compromise, and every design is a challenge,” said Hardy, who said there was a design committee of stakeholders who considered several options. “This is what we encounter on our urban sites.”
The Grady expansion project also will include improvements to the historic school, which once housed both Boy’s High and Tech High. (A nice coincidence, Hardy had my father as a professor when he went to Georgia Tech).
“We are going to fix some of the urns and fix some of the decorative concrete elements,” Hardy said. We also are going to redo the whole roof to keep the building viable.” The entire expansion project is scheduled to be completed in two years.
But the school’s grounds and connections to the surrounding community also need to be preserved.
In recent years, Grady students have been strong advocates for alternative modes of transportation. One of their fellow students – 14-year-old Alexis Hyneman – died while riding her bicycle across Monroe Drive in February, 2016. Since then, students have been promoting safer crosswalks and routes for people traveling on foot, bicycles or the numerous other micro-mobility modes now available in Atlanta.
The one common denominator is to discourage people from driving to school and needing more parking. After all, there are buses, MARTA, the BeltLine and plans for transit along the BeltLine corridor.
Also, APS has a pilot initiative with Trust for Public Land and Park Pride to explore the possibility of making school grounds available to the general public during off-hours – opening up acres of green space and park-like areas to virtually every community in the city.
Turning Grady’s front lawn into a parking lot is the totally wrong message for how we want to develop into a city with a high quality of life and respect of the natural environment.
In a text to Superintendent Carstarphen, I suggested that there has to be a better solution for APS, the community and the city as a whole.
“I am open to any better ideas,” Carstarphen wrote back. (Carstarphen also shot two short videos with her phone to show me which trees are slated to be cut down – see below).
The frustrated planner in me could see turning part of the sunken field into a two-level parking deck with a green roof on top that could be used for outdoor classrooms or athletics. That would extend the beautiful front lawn to 10th Street.
There are a couple of problems with my solution.
A large trunk sewer line diagonally divides the sunken field. APS did get clearance to locate part of the new building over the sewer line, but that was an exception. Also Hardy said APS tends to avoid parking decks for security and safety reasons.
The visual benefits of burying parking under a green plaza is worth considering. I would have the driveway going to the deck be built over the sewer line so that it could be accessible for maintenance. Then I would reorient the addition so it goes north-south – possibly avoiding the sewer line altogether. By reorienting the addition, I also would try to see if one could save the two large oaks and integrate them into the new grand entrance to the school.
No matter what – Grady’s front lawn should not be turned into a parking lot.
If that means Grady isn’t able to add 30 more parking spaces, so be it.