By Jody Steinberg

The placement of four portable classrooms at Ashford Park Elementary School drove neighbors into an uproar from the moment the aging, unsecured trailers were dropped off at the corner of Cravenridge and Pamela roads this month.

Discussions were flying on neighborhood e-mail lists, prompting neighbors Jim Eyer and Ravis “Neal” Taylor, both longtime supporters of the school, to appear before the DeKalb County Board of Education on July 20. Eyer cited safety concerns with the portables’ placement, and Taylor presented a petition signed by 88 percent of Cravenridge Road residents, asking that the trailers be moved from the street-front location.

“If (the school) needs the trailers, fine, but there are better locations for them than on our main street,” said Taylor, questioning the legality of their placement. “They’ll stop progress. Who wants to build in a neighborhood with a trailer park?”

The school is encircled by residential streets, with dozens of 1950s-era homes and an increasing number of million-dollar infill houses facing the campus. The front and side of the school sit close to Cravenridge Road, hemmed in by a semicircle of perpendicular parking spaces that separate the campus from the narrow road.

Four trailers have been placed between two school entrances on a small strip of lawn perpendicular to the building, about 20 feet from the parking spaces.

After the uproar began, the Ashford Park PTA’s co-presidents, Dianna Brown Williams and Tiffany Black-Wilson, circulated a letter saying that the schoolchildren need close access to the building and that the trailers’ location is “within ordinance.” A few days later, Brown Williams detailed plans to improve the trailers’ appearance.

“They already look better,” she said. “In the short amount of time since all of that was raised, they’ve been placed properly, cleaned up, painted, steps built, and the county has measured for a fence. Now the landscaping and grounds committee is discussing what we can do to provide a more attractive screen for the neighbors. We’re even considering bamboo, which would help the area be more safe and attractive and even possibly be able feed the pandas at the zoo.”

“We’ve told them that a 4-foot-high wood fence is like putting lipstick on a pig,” said Taylor, adding that placing the trailers without community input compromised a history of good relations between the school and neighbors, who have given tens of thousands of dollars to the school. He said neighbors want the trailers moved to a location less visible from surrounding homes, such as the lower fields or former basketball court behind the school.

Taylor has been told that trailers cannot supplant recreation areas, but he knows of several schools where they do.

“All of this was considered, but the safety of the children is our paramount concern,” school board member Don McChesney said. In an emergency, fast access to the interior of the school is the priority, and the lower fields, which are in a flood plain, are too far away.

McChesney said board members cannot micromanage school decisions. “What it boils down to: Is this a street issue, or is this a community issue?”

School officials and neighbors met at the school to seek a solution Wednesday morning. A reporter was not allowed to attend.

Taylor warned that if the meeting failed, neighbors would take the fight to the courts.

“It’s a shame to think that money will be given to attorneys when it could be given to the school,” he said.