Only time will tell how easy Marist School’s ride through the DeKalb planning process will be, but the Catholic school’s neighbors should appreciate that it has taken the right approach.
Marist didn’t have to look far to see what can happen when a school surprises neighbors.
In Sandy Springs, several private schools’ expansion plans have run into neighborhood opposition, including a fellow Catholic school, Holy Spirit Prep. Holy Spirit’s planned athletic complex is on hold during a court challenge from neighbors.
Even closer to home, just up Ashford-Dunwoody Road, Montgomery Elementary School was supposed to be finishing a parking expansion. Instead, it’s looking less and less likely that the project will be done this summer.
Jeff Turnage, a neighbor and critic of the Montgomery project, told the Ashford Alliance Community Association at its monthly meeting June 18 that the county has raised questions about the loss of trees.
The real flaw with the Montgomery plan, as in many other school-neighborhood clashes, however, was the flow of information. Neighbors didn’t learn about the parking project until the DeKalb County School System was ready to proceed, and that left neighbors fearful of being steamrolled.
Marist, on the other hand, is going public with its plans at an early stage. It’s the difference between telling people, “We’re doing this,” and saying, “We need to make some changes. What do you think of these ideas?”
There’s reason to hope Marist’s approach will pay off. Hearing about the June 24 community meeting on the campus master plan and getting a rundown on a June 4 meeting about the proposal from alliance member Turnage, the Ashford Alliance reacted calmly June 18. Board members didn’t rush to assume the worst about the effects of practice fields and tennis courts north of Nancy Creek. They didn’t panic about traffic or trees. They didn’t brace for battle over enrollment or lights or noise or any of the other issues that all too often divide schools and neighborhoods.
Instead, they welcomed the opportunity to hear Marist’s plans, perhaps with a touch of wariness but without antagonism.
That’s all a school can hope for: neighbors who come with open minds and trust that the institution cares about their concerns.