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Origin Story: From IBM Building to North Atlanta High School

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Office Space Origin Story: From IBM home to the home of the Warriors, the “new North Atlanta” was a long time coming.

Office Space Origin Story: From IBM home to the home of the Warriors, the “new North Atlanta” was a long time coming.

Drew Sheldon

Drew Sheldon

Office Space Origin Story: From IBM home to the home of the Warriors, the “new North Atlanta” was a long time coming.

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The “new North Atlanta” opened in its current building on Northside Parkway in fall 2013. But those who attended the school before remember when North Atlanta was just down the road on Northside Parkway in the current Sutton Middle School building.

Before North Atlanta’s current 11-story building became home to hundreds of active high school students, it had been a been a long-standing Buckhead office building that housed more than 5,000 IBM employees.

In 2012 IBM moved out, leaving behind a vacant building. The reason for the company’s move out was rooted in the shifting nature of the workforce. “Around that time IBM started having a mobile workforce,” said Rick Somra, a one-time IBM worker and a current North Atlanta parent. “More people working from home or at a customer site so IBM downsized and there wasn’t a need for all the office space in Atlanta.”

It was during early part of this century that Atlanta Public Schools started looking for a new building and campus for North Atlanta. That lengthy search started back as early as 2002, the year current North Atlanta sophomores were born. “The need was based upon the projection of growth and the expectation that the student population would grow a lot,” said North Atlanta principal Curtis Douglass. “And from the way we’ve grown, we can see that those projections were pretty spot on.”

The biggest challenge district officials had was finding 30-plus acres in Buckhead that was available, affordable and that did not create significant neighborhood impacts. The district’s property scout was Jere Smith, APS’s director for capital improvements. He and his team had been looking in the Buckhead area for several years and had considered the IBM site many times but it was never available. When the property did become available, Smith and his team felt there was no need to force the deal. “Buying this type of property is not like buying some other commodity,” he said. “You can’t just go get it when you want it.”

The property acquisition process was lengthy and construction finally started in early 2012. The project included building retrofitting, building demolition and building construction. And when construction was finally finished, the new North Atlanta came in at $147 million, a whopping price tag that made our school the most expensive school construction project in state history. The typical school construction project usually comes in around $38 million and the most expensive school project ever was the Robert F. Kennedy High School in Los Angeles which came in at an eye-popping $578 million. “We conducted test fits to assure APS could convert the school. Multiple design options were considered,” said Bob Just, head of the K-12 education division of Cooper Carry, the architecture firm that designed the retrofit of the IBM office building. “Once APS was assured they could make it work, the process moved along fairly quickly,” he said.

Just said the firm had to re-evaluate life safety codes related to a high rise office building and a high school. The firm also carved out portions of the upper floors to make each grade have an open commons area for students to feel connected to each other.

It was then that the needed construction took place that changed several aspects of the corporate offices. “It looked wide open on the main floor and cubicles and small offices along the walls on the upper floors,” said Somra. “They had a bunch of conference rooms and large meeting halls. There were even smoking areas.”

Fences were added around the lake, safety glass was installed to the windows, and 423 security cameras were placed around the stairwells and hallways. But by far the most impressive change was the demolition of the old IBM Hillside Building, the office building companion to the IBM Lakeside Building, which houses the our high school. The former Hillside Building was razed because it was not considered suitable for classrooms. After the ruins were cleaned up, a brand new Hillside Building replaced it and that building houses North Atlanta’s gym, auditorium and Fine Arts classrooms. The new configuration is designed to accommodate as many as 2,400 students so it’s apparent that even with today’s record-breaking student body population, there’s still more space for growth.  

While the new building brought about an immediate revitalization there was some nostalgia about leaving the old site. “I did love the layout decor of the old building,” said Douglass. “There was a real eclectic design to it.”

But if the new building lacks unique design quirks, it more than compensates with its size and spacious views, Douglass said. “I can’t think of any school in the nation that looks like this,” he said.

North Atlanta’s new home is far from static. In year five of its existence, there are still changes happening including this year’s opening of the building’s ninth floor because of school’s ongoing student body expansion. The one-time office building on Northside Parkway still very much stands. A long-time home for IBM workers now stands as a citadel of learning for the youth of Atlanta. And in its new digs, the new North Atlanta continues to renew itself every day.

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Thinking with Excellence to Inform and Enlighten
Origin Story: From IBM Building to North Atlanta High School