Tuesday, May 25, 2010

LPH school nixes group home, exploring other options

A rumored proposal to bring a group home for troubled boys to the Lower Price Hill Community School campus is dead and the school is entertaining other options, according to school executive director Jen Walters.

"We're pretty much back to square one with the building," Walters says. "The board wants to explore other options."

The 1840s-era, three-story building, located on the west side of the school's campus at 2104 St. Michael Street, served as the original St. Michael School until a new building was opened in 1903. It later became a parish residence, but has recently been vacant.

At the May meeting of the Lower Price Hill Community Council (LPHCC), Sister Kathryn Ann Connelly, S.C., president of the Community School board of directors, told council that, "The board wants to be a good neighbor. We have absolutely no intention of distressing this neighborhood."

In late March, word got out that the school was entertaining an offer to put the group home in the structure, ostensibly to be run by building co-owner Interfaith Hospitality Network.

Soon, word of the proposal went viral.

"I had made [LPHCC President Dr.] Jack [Degano] aware of the situation before the board even discussed it, as a nicety," Walters says. "But we were so far from actually making a decision."

Opening the lines of communication

According to Degano, the school's staff and board of directors declined an invitation to speak directly to the people of Lower Price Hill about their intentions for the property.

Degano says that it fostered an environment of mistrust, as the public lacked details on who would be admitted to the group home and who would operate it.

The LPHCC voted unanimously to oppose the proposal at its April meeting.

But Walters says that the school has not been evasive, saying that a series of miscommunications, missed messages, and her inability to be reached during the birth of her daughter led to the confusion.

The school's board of directors also wasn't comfortable with her speaking to LPHCC officers alone, on LPHCC terms.

"We have a vacant building that the neighborhood's been upset about," Walters says. "That was the first interest someone expressed."

The school will be forming a task force to find a new tenant for the building, and will be sending a representative to future LPHCC meetings.

"Community council members can be on the task force if they so choose," Walters says.

Preventing drama

Degano says that the relationship between the neighborhood and the school has been "unblemished" over the school's 39 years of operations.

"We thank the Community School board of directors for its reflection and probity," he says. "The people of Lower Price Hill value the school's decades of work educating adults of all ages. It would be a misfortune if the school was distracted from its mission by involvement in controversial issues, or in diverting its energy into 'social service' projects."

Walters says that the school is looking for a tenant that the community will support and that will be able to cover basic overhead costs.

"We're here to try to help prevent drama," she says. "Lower Price Hill already has enough drama. We want to keep people from being left in the dark."

"We worked hard to help the Community School board to see the real threat of such an institution on an already fragile neighborhood that is struggling to improve its status – and so far succeeding," Degano says.

The LPHCC has yet to hear from the board of directors of the Interfaith Hospitality Network, he says.

The LPHCC next meets on June 7 at 7 p.m. in the bingo hall of St. Michael the Archangel Church, 2104 St. Michael Street.

School photo courtesy of Lower Price Hill Community School.

Previous reading on BC:
Lower Price Hill facing another fight? (4/7/10)