Steve Adams, commander of American Legion Post 127 in Buford, stands in front of the facility that is being acquired through eminent domain by the Buford City Commission to build a new high school. (Photo: Dwayne Hood)
BUFORD — Buford American Legion officials will survey land in Sugar Hill this week for the post’s possible relocation to make way for construction of a new high school in Buford.
Steve Adams, commander of American Legion Post 127, said officials will meet with Sugar Hill City Manager Bob Hail, who is also a member of the post, to view a possible relocation site as part of their search to find new accommodations. This action follows a Buford City Commission decision last November to acquire the 33.5-acre American Legion site on Sawnee Avenue through eminent domain.
“We’re going to try to stay in Buford,” Adams said. “But if Sugar Hill’s got a good piece of land and good deal that we want, then that’s a different story.”
Adams said the city and legion are each having appraisals made of the land and post to arrive at an equitable price for the property. He said they retained Duluth attorney Tom Tate who specializes in eminent domain litigation.
“I know we’ve got to move, as much as we hate to,” said Adams, who has served as post commander for 18 years. “But we want a fair market price. We’re just going to have to see how the appraisals work out.”
Adams estimated that the post is worth $1.5 million and the 33 acres of land was appraised at $120,000 per acre in 2008.
“We know land has come down since then, but it hasn’t come down that much,” he said. “We’re hoping for between $4 million to $5 million. We don’t want less because we don’t want to take enough to just barely get by. After all, we’re the ones who are having to move.”
The legion commander said Buford officials gave them four years to move and offered a 30-acre farm site off New Bethany Road. But he said it was too hilly and had utility line issues that convinced them to keep searching. They are seeking a 10- to 15-acre site with a one-floor facility so older veterans will not have to struggle with stairs as they do at the current post.
“We want to find a place this year and start moving next year,” Adams said. “It’s going to take a lot and cost a lot to move and we don’t want to go into debt doing it. We can’t leave that for the younger vets coming along behind us.”
The American Legion has been in Buford since 1921 and on Sawnee Avenue since 1948. It’s the second largest American Legion post in Georgia with more than 1,200 members. There are also 550 members of the Sons of American Legion and 400 members of the American Legion Auxiliary. Adams said an IRS audit revealed that the organization provides an annual economic impact on Buford of $500,000.
“Everything we take out, we put back in through scholarships and other programs,” he said.
Buford City Commission Chairman Phillip Beard said no timetable has been set for construction of a new high school. He said when a new facility is built, the current high school will be refurbished into a middle school so the current middle school can then be made into an additional elementary school.
“We think future growth will be in the lower grades,” he said.
Adams said some legionnaires hoped they would be allowed to stay since it was the legion that initially sold adjacent land to the city in 1984 for the location of Buford High School.
“But we should’ve known years ago when they started building schools all around us that we’re not going to be here long,” Adams observed. “….But as they say, ‘You can’t fight city hall.’ You might as well just try to get along and do the best that you can.”