Situated on Austell Road, just 100 feet from the new Windy Hill/Macland Road Connector that is slated to open in August, the school’s location is too dangerous for students, community residents say. Members of the Osborne Community Coalition have been advocating for the school’s closure since 2008, when construction on the road began.
On Tuesday night the coalition was at the meeting, donning yellow T-shirts and carrying signs reading “Close our school!”
“I want you to hear the urgency that this concern is about the safety of our children,” Osborne Coalition executive director Christine Able said to district officials. “We have been advocating about this issue for a couple years now, and the road is getting ready to open and our kids are going to be in harm’s way. … will somebody please listen to us?”
District SPLOST Chief Doug Shepard unveiled the district’s timeline for redistricting, which will likely include school closings, at the Tuesday night meeting. Shepard said part of the district’s criteria for closing a school includes the safety of students as they travel to and from school.
While Shepard reiterated several times Tuesday night that no plans have been made to close any schools yet, he did admit Wednesday that the community’s concerns regarding Milford have been on the district’s radar since 2009.
“We share the community’s concern about the safety of the Milford site given the planned opening of the Windy-Mac Connector, and it’s our goal to address this situation either during this redistricting/school closure process or with a future school replacement or relocation,” the SPLOST chief said.
Shepard explained that the plans to relocate or replace a school are usually laid out in SPLOST referendums, as they were in SPLOST III for the new Mableton and Smyrna replacement elementary schools.
But community members say they don’t want to wait for a new SPLOST and that the school needs to close even before the road opens in August.
Yasmina Pierre, a 2010 Osborne graduate who lives 1½ miles up the road at Crescent Square Apartments, said that the new four-lane highway isn’t the only issue with the school’s location. Just a half mile up the road on County Services Parkway, there is a police shooting range and a dump.
“I know they’re not dumping toxic waste behind there anymore, but as time goes by the waste is still there,” Pierre said. “That’s a toxic environment for the kids.”
Pierre said she can hear the shooting range from her apartment at Crescent Square, so it must be distracting to the kids at Milford.
“If Milford wasn’t there, would they ever consider building a school in that area?” Pierre said. “It’s a lawsuit waiting to happen, and they don’t want that on their hands.”
John Williams, who is active in the Osborne Community Coalition and on the board-appointed Facilities and Technology Committee, pointed out Tuesday night that several of the schools close to Milford are under capacity, so redistricting Milford students to those schools could be a possibility.
Milford has 615 students, and is over capacity by 143. About a mile away, Birney Elementary, which houses 734, is under capacity by 84. At a little more than 1½ miles away, LaBelle Elementary is only 14 students under its capacity, with an enrollment of 433. Russell Elementary, which is three miles away from Milford, is under capacity by 127 students, with 682 students.
Shepard said it would be difficult for the neighboring schools to absorb Milford’s population, but that closing the school is definitely still an option.
According to a timeline introduced by Shepard on Tuesday night, board members will likely vote on school closings in January or February of next year.
Williams recalled Tuesday night that several of the new board members said they would be in favor of closing Milford.
At a candidate forum in July 2010, the current board vice chair Scott Sweeney and Kathleen Angelucci both said they had visited the Milford site and that they would advocate to find a different location for the school.
In March 2009, when the county department of transportation was meeting with the Milford community about its plans, board Chairwoman Alison Bartlett, who represents Milford, said she was committed to relocating the school.
Bartlett did not return calls to the Journal on Wednesday for comment.