By guest blogger Gina Cairney
What has 11 floors, a 900-car parking deck, costs some $147 million, and on top of all that, a gun range?
North Atlanta High School looks nothing like your average high school. With a lobby that looks like it belongs to a 5-star hotel in swanky Manhattan, a food court that resembles something you might find at a shopping mall, and floor-specific elevators with individual standing pads, North Atlanta is the most expensive public high school ever built in Georgia, according to The New York Times, and it opened its doors for the first time this month.
Video: WSB-TV video of North Atlanta High School
The new structure, built from an old IBM office building, will provide an opportunity to showcase how a large, urban public school can be a “viable alternative” to the increasing number of charter schools, vouchers, and private education, Howard E. Taylor, the new principal, told The Times.
“If there ever was a model for an urban high school, this is it,” he said.
About 1,400 students are attending the school this year, some from the wealthiest families in the region. Other students, however, are homeless. Nearly half the students are black, about 27 percent are white, and 20 percent are Hispanic, and more than 40 languages are spoken at the school, the newspaper says.
The construction cost was $50 million over its original budget, according to numerous news reports, raising questions among the area’s taxpayers. (Though, compared with the Robert F. Kennedy High School complex in Los Angeles, it’s chump change. That school, built in 2010, cost almost $600 million, The Times says.)
According to a letter from Nancy Meister, a board of education member for the Atlanta district, federal funds were used in the construction of North Atlanta High.
The project also fell under the Davis Bacon Act, a law that requires contractors to pay “prevailing wages,” making labor costs higher, Meister said.
As I mentioned earlier, North Atlanta isn’t your typical high school, and a report from the Atlanta ABC affiliate WSB-TV compares the costs of that school with others.
Basically, everything at North Atlanta is bigger, which means it’s more expensive.
With all the niceties it offers, perhaps one of its more intriguing amenities, especially at a time when many schools are beefing up school security, is an on-campus gun range.
The indoor rifle range is for the school’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps and the school’s rifle team, according to WSB-TV.
There were some safety concerns from parents about the rifle range, but the students are using compressed-air-powered pellet rifles, which the Daily Caller, a 24-hour news site, says are less likely to cause injury than live-ammunition weapons.
North Atlanta High isn’t the only school in Georgia with an on-campus rifle range. In fact, North Atlanta’s range was modeled after the one at Grady High School, also in Atlanta, WSB-TV says.
And rifle ranges at schools themselves aren’t exactly a new concept.
According to the National Review, gun clubs were common in many American high schools, often built into the schools’ basements. But concerns over safety and gun violence have led to many ranges closing down.
For example, Urban Middle School in Sheboygan, Wis., had a shooting range for its sports-club members since 1955, but amid concerns about lead exposure, the gun range was moved out of the school, says the Sheboygan Press.
Whether the shooting range is on, or off campus, however, there’s no guarantee that a controlled environment will result in total safety.
As shown in this crowdsourced map by Slate, more than 135 children and 360 teenagers have died from gun-related deaths since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December, when 26 students and school staff were shot and killed.
And a Children’s Defense Fund report found more than 2,500 children and teenagers died from guns in the U.S. in 2010—an average of seven per day. More than 18,000 children and teens suffered nonfatal gun-related injuries that same year.
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.