MARIETTA — The Cobb school board on Thursday avoided the use of eminent domain to acquire about 15 acres on Pine Road near Walton High School, instead voting 7-0 to approve the $3 million purchase of the two Cobb County tax parcels.

The land will likely be used to construct softball and tennis facilities to bring those two sports back to the east Cobb campus after they were displaced by a yearslong rebuild of the high school, beginning in 2015, according to school district officials.

The board also unanimously approved the hiring of Atlanta architecture firm Stevens & Wilkinson to begin planning and design of Pearson Middle School, the new middle school to be placed in Smyrna.

Board approves $3 million land purchase, avoiding eminent domain

In a last-minute change from expected action, school district staff announced the board would not have to vote on a resolution for the eminent domain acquisition of 15.28 acres at 1495 and 1550 Pine Road, just south of Walton.

Marc Smith, the district’s chief technology and operations officer, said the board had been attempting to acquire the undeveloped and uninhabited property for five years, and only recently had considered eminent domain.

“The growing need for additional land has made it necessary for the board to consider all available options at its disposable,” Smith said, adding that the property owner approached the board with a sale agreement that closely aligned with the board’s opinion of value between the last meeting and Thursday’s. “This means that the board will not have to consider eminent domain.”

Board member Charisse Davis, who represents Walton, said after Thursday night’s meeting she was happy to avoid the use of eminent domain.

District spokesperson Nan Kiel previously told the MDJ the district had offered the owner, Thelma McClure, $3 million, 10% more than the property’s appraised value, but McClure had refused.

Davis said after years of going back and forth with McClure, the board’s expression of intent to use eminent domain seemingly changed her mind.

The board member previously told the MDJ that using eminent domain to acquire the two Cobb County tax parcels was a “last resort.”

Two speakers at the board’s night meeting spoke prior to the board’s vote, questioning the need to use eminent domain and asking the district to keep neighbors updated on the process, as well as to proactively plan for issues of traffic congestion and buffering between developments and neighborhoods, among other items.

Pearson Middle School architect

The board’s $2 million hiring of Stevens & Wilkinson represents 5% of the estimated construction cost for the new school, according to the board’s agenda. That amount places an estimated $40.4 million price tag on the project.

Ragsdale said the district still doesn’t have the land to place the school on, but needs to retain the architects for their expertise during the planning process and real estate search.

In other business, the board approved $2.1 million for the hiring of additional teachers and paraprofessionals as needed, as well as one K-9 police officer; and approved a resolution to add waivers to the district’s Investing in Educational Excellence and Strategic Waivers School Systems contracts with the state. The additional waivers will allow the district to better personalize learning for students, according to the agenda.

Public comment topics included:

♦ Nickajack Elementary School parents who spoke on the need for the district to be more sensitive to special needs students, including those with autism. The parents asked that the district provide more transparency in special needs policies and ease of care, update its code of conduct for special needs students and hire certified special needs teachers proactively, instead of reactively;

♦ A Campbell Middle School council member who asked the board asked to consider adding more theater seats on the campus;

♦ Connie Jackson, who asked the board to consider the importance of daily planning periods for teachers; and

♦ An Obsorne High School senior, who urged the district to hire more minority teachers.

Follow Thomas Hartwell on Twitter at twitter.com/MDJThomas.

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