For more than a decade, the condition of the playing field in front of Garden Hills Elementary School in Buckhead was disgraceful.
It was disgraceful because the school itself is in one of the wealthiest ZIP codes in the Southeastern United States, if not the country.
It was disgraceful because Garden Hills Elementary School is a Title I school, which means a majority of the students live at or below the poverty line.
In a community where so much has been earned and given, we seemingly turned our collective backs on one of our local elementary schools, which needs more than others.
As of last week, that field is a construction site. Five years ago, a group of parents and neighbors organized to fix it. This fall, the first phase will be complete. Plans call for creating an outdoor amphitheater in the center of the curved stairs leading the school building, a track and regrading and resodding the field.
It has taken half a decade to get to this point, and it may be another two years before the second phase is complete, which includes an outdoor restroom. Teachers currently have to walk students back to the school building across the driveway if they need to use the facilities. Of the 24 classrooms, just six have assistants that can help with escorting students. You can do the math.
I know the field well. Buckhead Baseball used it for practice. It was mostly dirt, but it had a backstop. A well-hit ball ended up in the parking lot.
Our son played flag football and our daughter played soccer at Garden Hills. There was a bit more grass than I remembered, but there were still a lot of bare patches of dirt. Weeds and privet covered the hillsides. There were many places to hide in the unkept underbrush.
The school opened in 1938 to serve the growing Buckhead community. Philip T. Shutze is occasionally identified as the architect of the red brick Neo-classical building, but that is wrong. The firm Tucker and Howell designed it, but it was clearly influenced by North Fulton High School, which is next door and was designed by Shutze.
Tucker and Howell — the Howell was Albert Howell, son the great newspaper editor Clark Howell — are best known for their modern designs, including Morris Brandon Elementary School in Buckhead.
The field may have been part of that original design. A 15-foot stone wall supports the curved double-stairs leading to the field from the school. Across the field, in a straight line from the front door, are a second set of stairs leading onto the field. Children walking to school in the 1930s likely walked across the field to get to school.
Through it once ran a creek, some of which is still visible. Below the field, pipes carry the rest of it. Some adults remember climbing through those pipes when they were children. Drainage issues remain.
Acorns to Oaks, the Garden Hills Elementary Foundation, is leading the effort to fix the field. They have raised more than $600,000 from parents, alumni and neighbors. Construction started in the spring. They are also installing a sprinkler system for the grass and fixing the drainage issues.
They have a ways to go, including raising the funds for the critical outdoor bathroom, which was requested by the teachers. That will require an additional $180,000, which will also be used to fund the installation of a learning garden and a nature trail.
Even though our kids didn’t attend Garden Hills, we have benefited from that field over the years. I have to assume many Buckhead residents are similarly indebted.
If we can get behind this initiative, we will correct an oversight that has marked our community for far too long, and help give the students an appropriate place to play and learn.