The Galloway School in Buckhead has confirmed its campus renovation plan will involve demolishing the historic, iconic Gresham Building while saving some pieces for incorporation into a new structure. Preservationists are urging the school to reconsider.
“In order to remain responsible fiscal stewards of our school, we have made the difficult but necessary decision to remove and reimagine Gresham,” wrote the Galloway Board of Trustees and Head of School James Calleroz White in an Oct. 25 email to supporters, citing various challenges and expenses.
The Gresham at 215 Chastain Park Ave. is the 112-year-old former Fulton County Almshouse, where the school has been based since its founding in 1969. The school itself got the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. The email says that local historians and preservationists were consulted about the Gresham’s fate, though the school did not immediately respond to a request to identify them.
The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation was not contacted, according to President and CEO W. Wright Mitchell, who is also a Buckhead resident.
“The Galloway School acknowledges the rich historical significance of Gresham Hall, not only through their efforts to list it on the National Register but also in how it serves as the centerpiece and symbol of their school,” said Mitchell in a written statement. “Considering this fact and the importance of Gresham Hall to Atlanta, the Georgia Trust urges Galloway to explore ways to adaptively reuse the building to fit its current needs. The Georgia Trust is willing and available to discuss and assist in providing any technical assistance to help achieve a preservation solution for this significant historic resource.”
“The Atlanta Preservation Center neither endorses or supports the razing of a historic contributing and significant building,” said David Yoakley Mitchell, that organization’s executive director. “Yet, this is not a singular situation. We have this happening throughout the city, and the lack of an easement or landmark protection on the Fulton County Almshouse makes this extremely difficult to govern.”
The Buckhead Heritage Society, a local history organization, did not immediately respond to a comment request.
The school originally considered demolishing another, newer building – the Sims Early Learning Center – and keeping the Gresham as a new location for that use, according to the email from the trustees and head of school. But, the email continued, the project architects and construction team said the Gresham needed a closer look. In May, the team reported that the Gresham had “become inadequate” for future needs and “emphasized it would not be structurally sound over the long term.”
They found the building to have issues with “structural integrity and accessibility,” “functionality and adaptability,” and “environmental impact and sustainability,” according to the email.
“It is crucial to emphasize that alternative scenarios to preserve or renovate Gresham were thoughtfully considered and debated, and the decision to reimagine Gresham was not one taken lightly,” says the email.
The Gresham would be replaced by a new Upper Learning Building roughly twice its size but in the same footprint. Its design, according to a Galloway website page about the project, “will pay homage to the iconic Gresham building by incorporating elements of the original building into the design of the new building. We understand the significance of preserving and honoring our cultural heritage and commit to documenting and publicly displaying the rich history of the old building in the new building to ensure that the spirit and essence of Gresham remains alive and celebrated in the community.”
The plan is part of other campus changes, including a renovation of the Sims building. The Hilltop Fields in the adjacent, City-owned Chastain Park would be used as some kind of temporary space during construction.
The plan is outlined in a donation-oriented section of the school website with a campaign called “Galloway Forward: A Campaign to Ignite, Inspire, and Imagine.”
The website includes a video featuring various school officials, parents and other affiliated people standing in front of the Gresham Building while discussing the plan, including the demolition. A theme is that the school community is more important than a specific building. Among them is Jeff Galloway, son of the late school founder John Elliott Galloway, who says the entire family supports the project.
“It is also a little sad because of all of the history of this building,” says Jeff Galloway in the video. “But again, Elliott Galloway said it’s not about the facilities. It’s not about any particular thing that we have. It’s about the community of learners.”
In 2011, the late Beth Farokhi, then the head of school, led the National Register listing effort as part of a celebration of the building’s centennial. The National Register listing does nothing to prevent demolition or other changes. The overall project may involve some City review processes. Earlier this month, the school filed applications with the Atlanta Department of City Planning for a rezoning application to allow a new building and a revision of a special use permit for a new site plan. Those processes do not include historic preservation reviews but are an opportunity to discuss such issues.
Laura Dobson, a preservation advocate who won a Buckhead Heritage award in 2021 for helping to save a historic book bindery and bookstore on Peachtree Road, said she hopes the school will reconsider.
“I am so very sorry to see the decision of The Galloway School to destroy the National Register of Historic Places Gresham Building,” she said. “The building is not only iconic to The Galloway School, but it is an important City of Atlanta and Fulton County piece of history. It’s frankly bigger than Galloway. Destruction is not the only way forward. And I hope The Galloway School will reverse their decision and find a way to re-embrace the building they loved.”