Parents have been vocal at school board meetings about their need for a new school for months and are excited the school has made the list to be considered, said Sharie Bassett, PTA member and a parent of a second-grader at Harmony Leland.
Despite recent improvements made to the school with SPLOST III funds, including new ceiling tiles and multiple paint jobs, Basset said the district has been approaching their school with a Band-Aid-like approach, fixing problems as they arise, instead of addressing the core of the problems.
“We have a leaking roof, overcrowding, trailers and a really old building,” she said, on a recent tour of the school building.
There are about 650 students who attend Harmony Leland, tucked away on Dodgen Road off of Veterans Memorial Highway in Mableton.
The school has a capacity of 478 students, said Chris Ragsdale, the deputy superintendent of operational support for the district.
The school was built in 1951 and sits on 8.4 acres, he said.
After months of complaints from school staff and parents of a leaking roof, the district spent $3,000 in early August to install new ceiling tiles throughout the school, Ragsdale said.
By late September, the school spent another $1,500 to replace stained and leaking tiles, he added.
On a recent trip to the school in October, a few of the just months-old tiles in the school’s second- and third-grade breezeway were already stained with water marks.
Basset said the district has been responsive to their complaints of leaking ceiling tiles, but they are afraid it is costing the district too much money.
“They are sending people here to fix the leaks, but they’ll put the new tile in and say ‘It’s fixed,’ until the next time it rains and we have more leaks,” she said, “These things are expensive, and we will need more and more Band-Aids.”
The district has already spent $6.6 million on the school with funds from SPLOST I, II and III, Ragsdale said.
Some of the most recent improvements include a new playground, parking lot, paint job and ceiling tiles, which has made the school “more livable,” Bassett said, but it is still not in the ideal condition.
The school now has nine trailers, although only seven are in use, Bassett pointed out. The district dropped off two additional trailers in early October, Ragsdale said, but they are in need of repairs and are unable to be used at this point.
The trailers will be used to offset some of the five kindergarten classes, which each have close to 30 students, Bassett said.
Harmony Leland is on the list of schools to be considered to be rebuilt. If chosen, the school will be relocated, redistricted and combined with students from Clay Elementary School, according to the district.
Parents are open to being consolidated with another school, as long as their children will get to use the new facility, they said.
“I will take a bigger school with all the amenities that my daughter needs. A technology teacher, a library with enough books … I’m excited to have a new facility for my child so I won’t have to be dragging her to the pediatrician all the time,” said Carmen Baxter, a PTA member and mother of a second grader at the school, whose daughter has had to start taking medication to deal with the dampness in the building, she said.
Other parents shared Baxter’s excitement.
“If they can approach two distressed schools at once, I would not be opposed at all (to a consolidation), as long as the classroom sizes stay small,” said PTA President Fred Edwards, who has a fourth-grader at the school.
The love for the school is shared among the community, and local clergy and business owners have attended board meetings since September, asking for a rebuild.
Broderick Santiago, the pastor of Mosaic Church, which has been meeting in the cafeteria of the school for about a year, said the recent repairs in the school have certainly helped, but do not negate the fact that the students need a new building.
“We have had to put a bucket in the middle of the room during our church service to catch the leaks from the ceiling,” he said.
Santiago, who has two children at Harmony Leland, is passionate about the school’s close-knit community, and volunteers as a mentor at the school a few times a week, he said.
“We have great programming at this school in this old building,” he added.
Board members Kathleen Angelucci, David Morgan and Tim Stultz have all been out to visit the school this year, Bassett said.
When she visited Harmony Leland, Angelucci said she spoke with parents, asked questions and took her own photos to bring back to the other board members.
“I have encouraged parents and school staff to continue to advocate for their schools. We owe it to the community to get as much information as possible before making this very difficult decision,” she said.
Parents and community members have taken her encouragement, and will continue to advocate for a new building, as well as immediate problems that need fixing, until the board decides what schools will be rebuilt, said Santiago.
“I think a lot of the things are being addressed, but it doesn’t negate the fact that we need a new building,” Edwards said.