Fernbank Museum | Outdoor Expansion

A depiction of the Fernbank Museum outdoor expansion. Image courtesy of Fernbank Museum of Natural History.

A depiction of the Fernbank Museum outdoor expansion. Image courtesy of Fernbank Museum of Natural History.

Below is a post from Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Maria Saprota covering Fernbank Museum’s plans to expand the outdoor offerings. Fernbank Museum announced the expansion on November 21, via an email, which can be viewed here: Outdoor Expansion.

Please note: Fernbank indicates that this will have no impact on the 65-acre Fernbank Forest.

Fernbank Museum of Natural History launching major new expansion

Maria Saporta, Contributing Writer- Atlanta Business Chronicle

In a major new expansion, Fernbank Museum of Natural History will be opening up its doors to embrace the 75 acres of woods in its backyard for visitors to enjoy a unique outdoor experience.

Fernbank, which opened in October 1992, has launched a $20 million campaign to expand and re-orient the museum so that visitors can fully experience 10 acres of mature woodlands and the 65-acre Fernbank Forest, the largest old-growth urban Piedmont forest in the country.

It will be the largest single investment in the museum since it opened 22 years ago.

In many ways, it will bring Fernbank full circle to the original vision of Emily Harrison, who saw Fernbank as a “School in the Woods” more than a century ago.

“Fernbank is the only nature museum in the country connected to a major woodlands and an old growth forest,” said Susan Neugent, president and CEO of Fernbank Museum. “This is the most significant development at Fernbank since the museum opened, and we can’t wait for our visitors to experience this fun and invigorating encounter with nature.”

Although Neugent said it was premature to talk about the status of the $20 million campaign, she did say that there has been 100 percent participation from Fernbank’s board of trustees.

The Robert W. Woodruff Foundation also has made a $5 million grant towards the $20 million campaign. Separate from the campaign, the Woodruff Foundation has made another $5 million gift as an endowment to support the ongoing maintenance of Fernbank Forest.

Speaking of the Woodruff Foundation trustees, Neugent said: “Their generosity to Fernbank goes far back. They’ve been anxious to see us embrace the outdoors.”

The expansion will enable the museum to fully take advantage of its unique location as an urban natural history museum within a forest by letting visitors experience nature in an outdoor environment rather than inside a museum building.

The outdoor expansion will offer experiences for all ages enabling visitors to explore a variety of landscapes along with a five-story change in elevation—from dramatic vantage points high in the trees to footpaths winding through rugged, ever-changing terrain.

Experiences will include tree pods, play areas, ground trails, sensory stations, elevated adventure nets, hands-on water cycle activities, a restored wetland, and “floating” walkways.

“This is a rare opportunity to connect our visitors with a truly authentic nature experience, right here inside the city,” Neugent said. “We can’t wait for our visitors to experience this fun and invigorating encounter with nature.”

The new outdoor experiences will be located primarily on the 10 acres of mature woodlands in Fernbank’s backyard, and the expanded outdoor experiences area is expected to open in the summer of 2016.

When the Fernbank Museum was built 22 years ago, it was located on land that used to be residences along Ponce de Leon Avenue and Clifton Road. The woodlands — which do include a number of 100-year-old trees — are basically the former backyards of those former homes, and they are adjacent to Fernbank Forest. But the land cannot be considered to have been undisturbed like the old-growth forest.

Neugent said that Fernbank went through great pains to make sure the old-growth forest would not be impacted by the expansion or during construction.

The museum actually is doing the opposite by restoring the forest, stabilizing the trails and helping with pond restoration.

It is currently leading a research-based restoration that includes removal of more than 45 harmful invasive species and restoration of many native species that have largely disappeared.

“We understand at the time Emily Harrison had her home here, there were 21 different species of ferns in the forest. and today there are only nine species,” Neugent said. “So it’s our plan to return the full composite of ferns along the northern bank of Fernbank Creek.”

It was because of all the ferns along the bank of the creek that led Emily Harrison to name the forest and her homestead — Fernbank. She founded the organization — Fernbank Inc. — in 1939 to preserve the forest.

Fernbank is one of the oldest conservation nonprofit institutions in the country following American Forest, the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society.

Asked about whether trees in the woodlands and Fernbank Forest would be saved, Neugent said that they had conducted a thorough tree inventory. A total of 479 trees were counted of which six were declared too sick or in poor condition. Six that had been planted recently along a roundabout will be removed. That will leave only six trees that will need to be cut down for the expansion.

“We have taken great pains to place the walkways between trees,” Neugent said. “We have made a great effort to preserve as many trees as possible.”

Part of the $20 million Fernbank campaign will include expanded access to the forest, and Neugent said that is expected to occur when the outdoor experiences will be unveiled to the public. Fernbank’s outdoor expansion will be included with the admission to the museum at no extra charge, and it will be free for members.

Maria Saporta covers non-profits and philanthropy

Strangers Knocking On Doors

Between October 29 and November 4, a few residents reported two different males walking around the neighborhood knocking on doors. Here are three messages, among some others, the Neighborhood Watch received. They’re from neighbors on East Lake Rd, from one end to the other. (We apologize for getting this on the site just now. There was some confusion about exactly what was going on, and we were also waiting for the police to weigh in on things.)

This morning a man rang our doorbell just after my husband left. I didn’t open the door, but I think he was offering to help with the front yard. I am not sure if he was a legit day-laborer or up to something else. I told him no thanks (through the door) and he left. He was riding a bike (road bike), and was a relatively tall (guessing 5’10-6′) black man…maybe 40 or 50yrs old.

Had an unexpected person at the door today just after noon — a black male, maybe 35. He rang the bell and peered inside. He was dressed in an over-sized Adidas windbreaker and jogging pants and baseball cap. His right arm was in a sling and heavily wrapped, and he had a small dog with him, tan, maybe Chihuahua mix or something. He said he had never seen my house before and asked me when it was built. I said in the 1920’s. Strange question.

It’s interesting to note that the police officer who showed up at my house told me the stranger who ended up inside my house — an African-American male, 5’10, navy baseball cap, navy short sleeve shirt, arm in cast, with a little dog — was of “no harm.” The guy got into my house and the police officer was defending him. He said he spoke to the guy and said the guy was simply trying to “return my keys that he had found.” What the guy didn’t say to the officer was that he, a stranger, walked up to my house from the road and banged on the front door for 5 minutes, while I ignored it, thinking he would go away. He kept banging so I went to confirm the side door was locked and I called 911. I had just returned home and was not aware that I had left my keys in the side door, on the outside, because I had my 30-lb sleeping baby in my arms and was trying to get him to his bed. Upstairs, while I was on the phone with 911, I heard a voice calling from the kitchen. The guy had turned the lock with the key I had left in the side door, entered my house, and was standing in my mudroom!!! And with the 911 dispatcher on the phone and a gun in my hand I headed downstairs to tell him to get out of my house. He said he didn’t want any trouble and slowly moved out the door.

Here’s what the police — Major Yarbro of the Criminal Investigation Unit and others — told us late today (November 4). They’re stepping up patrols in the neighborhood. They’re reviewing how the officer responded to the last incident (which occurred on the 4th), and they will provide details as soon as they can. They added that this is the time of year when property crimes — everywhere in the county — can start ticking upward, noting that burglars sometimes case neighborhoods, houses, and cars in advance of attempting burglary and theft.

All three police officials who weighed in on this today emphasized that when a resident sees anyone in the neighborhood who appears suspicious, he or she should immediately call the police (911). One said: “We will immediately respond, investigate, sort everything out, and keep the neighborhood apprised of what’s going on.”

There will be a Q&A posting on the private security firm Druid Hills Patrol later this week. East Lake Neighborhood Watch had a talk with their lead security official on November 4. Details to come.

DHCA Survey | Clarification

Yesterday’s post on the Druid Hills Civic Association survey neglected to note that postcards – not an actual survey – were mailed to each Druid Hills home. That seems to have caused a little confusion as a few people indicated they didn’t get the survey in the mail, or they couldn’t find a link.

Instead of an actual survey arriving at your home, you should have received a postcard like the one in the pictures (front/back), below. If you did not, please let us know by responding to the email notification associated with this post, or by placing a comment on the post itself. Anne Wallace, our DHCA Div. 2 co-chair and DHCA survey lead, will make sure you get a survey ‘invitation’ post card if you didn’t receive (or have misplaced) yours.

Remember, you need the code from the postcard before you can take the survey. Simply going to the link noted in the postcard image will not work. This makes sure there’s only one vote per household.

Any questions, please let us know!

Thank you!

Survey-Post-Card-Front Survey-Post-Card-Back

Druid Hills Survey



 We need to hear from as many neighbors as possible, so we can take a position on the future for Druid Hills.

 Anne Wallace

DHCA Division 2 Chair


Fernbank Construction on Schedule

On Tuesday, October 21, DCSD Construction staff presented their third monthly Fernbank Elementary School Construction Update to assembled parents and members of the community.  The project remains on schedule for completion in the summer of 2015, with classes for the entire 2015-2016 school year taking place in the new facility on Heaton Park Drive.  Highlights of this month’s update:

  • The general contractor (R.K. Redding, or RKR) is planning to begin slab on grade (SOG) concrete pours the week of October 27, if weather permits.  The schedule calls for 12 pours, each of which take an entire day to complete.  The first pour is scheduled to begin at the rear of the site, on the “ground floor” of what will become the rear of the building footprint.
  •  Structural steel fabrication is complete, with all steel ready to be shipped to the site as soon as the SOG pours are completed and significant vertical construction can begin.
  • The underground storm water detention system is in place at the rear of the property and the contractor is in the process of filling and compacting the dirt over the system.  Unsuitable soils were discovered on that part of the site during the excavations necessary to accommodate the storm water detention system, which required RKR to bring in “good” fill dirt from an off-site location.  This is the pile of dirt that is visible just behind RKR’s construction trailer near Heaton Park Drive.  Included in the unsuitable soils that are being removed (the large pile of dirt along the southeastern border of the site) were construction materials from the construction of the original Fernbank building in the 1950s.
  • Drilling of the large knob of subsurface granite that was discovered underneath the old building’s gymnasium, cafeteria and kitchen, to allow for the construction of the new building’s foundations at the proper depth, has almost been completed, and will be complete in time for those foundations to be constructed prior to the SOG pours for the front part of the building.  RKR was able to complete this task without any change to the project schedule, and managed to do so without resorting to blasting.
  • Construction of foundations, walls and the installation of plumbing piping underneath the locations of the concrete slabs are underway.
  • In response to an inquiry made at the September meeting, the architect advised that the project has been designed to follow the “Night Skies Initiative”, which seeks to protect wildlife, cut energy waste and minimize light pollution.  The fixtures to be installed for the exterior lighting are LED fixtures that distribute light straight down, without any “bleed” upward or out.  The current lighting plan restricts all exterior light to the footprint of the property.
  • Remaining schedule:  Construction of the building envelope has just begun and will continue through December.  Interior construction will begin in December and continue through April, 2015.  Construction finishes (paint, flooring and other fine-tuning of the interior spaces) will be occur in May and June, 2015, with substantial completion on target for June, 2015.  Building systems “startup” will commence in July, 2015, as well as the installation of furniture, fixtures and equipment.  Move-in is also scheduled for July, with occupancy and classes beginning in August, 2015.

The next update meeting will take place the week of November 17, at the Fernbank Science Center.  Specific dates have yet to be finalized but the time (7:45 a.m.) will remain the same for all future meetings.  The specific date for the November meeting will be announced no later than next week.

Charlie Rogers
Fernbank School Council Chair

Atlanta Annexation Forum

Anne Wallace, Chair of the Atlanta Annexation Initiative for DHCA, attended the Fernbank PTA meeting on Wednesday, October 22, and provides the following information from the meeting. (These remarks are also posted on the DHCA website.)

After taking care of school business at the beginning, the evening was devoted to Atlanta Annexation and what it would mean to the school community. There was a good crowd in the cafeteria as Marshall Orson (DeKalb School Board District 2), Matt Lewis (Druid Hills Charter Cluster), and Howard Mosby (Chair of DeKalb House delegation) answered questions from the audience after making brief opening remarks.

1. The Proposed Atlanta Annexation Map displayed on the screen is the same map AAI adopted which includes the Fernbank ES and Briar Vista ES attendance zones. The audience was told they could see the map on the DHCA website or go to the DeKalb County School District (DCSD) website for school attendance zones.

2. Marshall made the point that his personal goal as a member of the School Board is to see that every student has the opportunity for a good education. He does not believe that DeKalb County has done a good job of that. Marshall supported the Charter Cluster because he believed it would raise the level of education for a large number of students, but the DCSD did not see it the same way. He held out hope that the Board would take another vote and approve it, but that was not to be.

3. Matt Lewis advocated the importance of keeping the school community intact (particularly the elementary schools) in order to have a good neighborhood. He recognized that it is logical for Emory to go to Atlanta for many reasons.

4. He encouraged the audience to be proactive; don’t be left out or acted upon.

5. The capacity of the 2 elementary schools (which would be K-8) is about 1500-1600 and Druid Hills High School has capacity to accommodate that number as well.

6. Matt Lewis recognized Matt Westmoreland, APS Board Member, who was in the audience. And stated his admiration for several APS members including the new superintendent and others she has appointed. Matt Lewis stated that he believes there is a better education opportunity for your children in Atlanta.

7. In answer to a question about what is in the annexation for residents withOUT children in school, Matt Lewis answered with praise for the NPU and UDC processes in Atlanta.

8. Howard Mosby, head of the DeKalb House Delegation, fielded many questions about the legislative process.

9. A possible timeline would be: 2015 legislature drops a bill for the proposed annexation area to hold a referendum November 2015; many negotiations take place prior to the referendum (APS/DCSD, City of Atlanta studies service delivery, etc.) If referendum passes, it would likely not affect the schools until August 2016-17 School Year.

10. I was approached by people from other neighborhoods asking if they can join our Atlanta Annexation Initiative. The answer is yes; it is not limited to Druid Hills residents.

You can stay up-to-date on this issue by visiting http://druidhills.org/cityhood-annexation-options/. Feel free to share questions or suggestions as developments unfold.

Atlanta Annexation | Panel Discussion at Fernbank Elem.

The Fernbank Elementary School PTA extends the invitation below. The location of the Fernbank School in Avondale Estates is 3131 Old Rockbridge Road.

Dear Community Leaders,

We would like to invite you to attend the Fernbank Elementary General PTA meeting on Wednesday, October 22 at 6pm in the Fernbank (at Avondale) Cafeteria.

In addition to general PTA business we will have Atlanta Annexation on the agenda and have asked a select group of panelists to facilitate the discussion. We hope you will be able to join us for what we believe will be a very informative evening for our Elementary school community.

Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

Best Regards,
Melissa Fishbein and Laura Disque
Fernbank Elementary PTA Co-Presidents 2014-2015