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CCSD to Sell Three Cobbham Houses, and More Local News

The Clarke County School District is looking to sell two historic houses on the former Piedmont College campus it bought to serve as its central office in 2020. A third, however, could be moved, because CCSD administrators want to put a new building in its place for students to register.

CCSD has applied for a rezoning from institutional to commercial office for one building (Rogers Hall, facing Prince Avenue) and residential-multifamily for another (the Mitchell House, facing Hill Street). A hearing before the Athens-Clarke County Planning Commission is scheduled for Thursday, Apr. 7, but both buildings are already listed for sale. CCSD is asking $900,000 for Rogers Hall and $400,000 for the Mitchell House.

The third building is known as Ellard Hall, and it faces the parking lot. CCSD is seeking a buyer to move that building because administrators determined that renovating it would be more expensive than building anew.

A basic renovation would cost $384,000, Director of SPLOST John Gilbreath told school board members at a Mar. 2 work session, but to bring the building up to CCSD standards would cost $1.7 million. Constructing a new building with a larger footprint more appropriate for student registration, along with a handful of Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant offices on the second floor, would cost $1.4 million, he said. 

“Isn’t there a middle ground?” school board member Tim Denson asked. Gilbreath noted the single-paned windows, asbestos in the basement and lead paint underneath the vinyl exterior of a building where children will be present. “A lot of the original characteristics that made that house historic are no longer there,” he said. But that’s true of many historic buildings in Athens, including some on campus that serve as offices, Denson replied.

CCSD is selling the other two outbuildings for similar reasons. “Both houses have been put up for sale because they are not really suited for office space or institutional use,” spokesperson Cyndee Moore said. “They are not ADA accessible and contain lead paint. Further, the crawl spaces are raw dirt and would require mitigation efforts in order to make them suitable for CCSD. In short, to bring them up to the standards required by CCSD would be quite expensive.”

The school board has not yet made a decision on Ellard Hall. Some Cobbham residents are lobbying the district to keep it as a gesture of goodwill to the surrounding community. Yet there is also some fear of a protracted political stalemate similar to the West Broad School, which has sat vacant for more than a decade because school board members, ACC commissioners, nonprofits, and four school superintendents and counting cannot agree on how to use the property or even how much can be preserved.

At the suggestion of former superintendent Xernona Thomas, CCSD bought the Piedmont College campus—previously Prince Avenue Baptist Church, now located in Oconee County—for $8.2 million. The district had been searching for a more centrally located headquarters ever since former superintendent Philip Lanoue, seeking a more accessible location, sold the Mitchell Bridge Road building, a former hospital, to Athens Behavioral Health Systems and relocated the administration to the H.T. Edwards complex in 2015. That building proved too small to share with the career center; the West Broad School lacked parking; and the school board shot down former superintendent Demond Means’ proposal to purchase a building on Milledge Avenue for $11 million in a deal brokered by a real estate agent who was among the school board members that hired Means. Piedmont University is now housed in the four-story Normaltown building where Allen’s and Foxz Tavern used to be.

Saye, Saye, Saye

Four years after the imminent demolition of the Saye Building downtown spurred Athens-Clarke County commissioners to create a historic district around the Hot Corner area, First United Methodist Church still wants to tear down the building.

The church appealed county planning staff’s rejection of an application to demolish the building. Jake Evans, First United Methodist’s attorney, argued at hearings last month that the application should have been approved because the church applied for the demolition permit before the commission declared a moratorium on downtown demolitions.

ACC officials, however, said that staff acted properly because the permit had not been approved when the commission declared the moratorium in January 2019. Commissioner Melissa Link had placed a 90-day hold on the permit.

While several members of the Hearings Board—a seven-member body that weighs requests for minor zoning variances and hears appeals of staff decisions—said they disagreed with the way the commission went about creating the historic district, ACC attorneys said they couldn’t second-guess policy, only rule on whether staff applied it correctly. Lawyers for the county also said the church should have instead asked the Historic Preservation Commission for permission to demolish the building. The board denied the appeal.

The Saye Building.

The Saye Building, located at the corner of Hancock Avenue and Lumpkin Street, is about 100 years old, with an addition that dates back to the 1940s. If the building is torn down, First Methodist plans to use the property as a parking lot.

More on the Mall

Maybe you have questions about the redevelopment of Georgia Square Mall, or still don’t quite get this whole tax allocation district thing. Whatever the reason for your curiosity, you can get your questions answered at a Federation of Neighborhoods meeting on Monday, Apr. 10. Commissioner Jesse Houle and school board members Linda Davis and Mumbi Anderson—all members of the Mall Area Redevelopment Committee—as well as Scott Haines, the landscape architect for the project, will be on hand to explain the redevelopment and what it means for Atlanta Highway. The event starts at 7 p.m. in the Lab at Ciné.