City Beat

City Beat: School’s fence makes bad neighbor

The fence around the Merryhill School in midtown doesn’t look right.

It’s a little ugly. Even worse, it blocks the view of the old Newton Booth School building, where the privately run Merryhill set up a campus – and the fence – last year. The school is a well-preserved landmark in a city where many historic buildings have been ruined.

That’s why some in the Newton Booth neighborhood – a tranquil slice of the central city surrounding the school at 26th and V streets – want the wooden fence gone. But they’re in a tough spot. So are city officials, who’ve known for months that the fence was built without the right approvals.

Just try arguing with this: The fence went up to protect young children. And what’s more important, preserving the views of a historic building? Or doing everything possible to ensure that little kids can play and learn in a safe environment?

Neighborhood associations in this city go to war with outside interests with little provocation. The Newton Booth Neighborhood Association has been cordial. The group’s president, John Hagar, has written a couple of letters, but there haven’t been any angry rallies.

After eight months, Hagar is starting to lose patience. He said Merryhill has ignored his pleas to replace the fence with one that fits the historic nature of the building and doesn’t block the view of the school.

It’s a shame, he said. Merryhill has a great reputation and neighbors were thrilled when it arrived in Newton Booth.

“We’ve never had any complaints,” Hagar said, “except for that damn fence.”

The city wants a plan from Merryhill soon. Hagar wants the city to revoke the school’s occupancy permit if a suitable design isn’t prepared. The city said it isn’t going to do that and is confident Merryhill will come up with a plan everyone likes.

Merryhill said it’s not going to replace the fence, but will change it enough to allow for outsiders to see the school’s decorative main entrance and facade during non-school hours.

Denise Ondrof, the principal, didn’t directly respond to an interview request last week, but she issued a statement through a Maryland-based public relations firm. The company that runs Merryhill is based in Pennsylvania.

“Design concerns were brought to our attention after the fence was erected, and we have been in ongoing discussions with the city to modify the fence in a manner that will continue to celebrate the historical and architectural elements of our beautiful school grounds,” the statement read.

Hagar doesn’t want to appear hostile toward young families. The neighborhood is attracting lots of them to its modern homes and old bungalows.

“A school is a good use for that beautiful old building,” he said. “There’s no sense hiding it with a fence.”

Then again, that old building isn’t the only thing behind the fence.

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