Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
It depends on whether the divine creator is patient or impatient. For my peace of mind, I like to think
She’s patient — super patient.
When it comes to neighborhoods and schools, however, it is a bit nuanced. When Pace Academy opened in 1958 in a former private home on West Paces Ferry Road in Buckhead, the neighborhood around it was very different than it is today.
But when the Donnellan School opened on Mount Paran Road in Buckhead on the former campus of Whitefield Academy in 1996, the neighborhood around it was pretty similar to what is today, albeit a bit less dense. The Donnellan School is now Holy Spirit Preparatory School.
Pace and Holy Spirit have been butting heads with some of their neighbors recently over plans to improve their respective campuses. In both cases, negotiations from years prior resulted in agreements curbing their future growth in exchange for neighborhood support.
It appears the schools determined solving their current conundrums is worth the public relations headaches that come with scrapping those agreements. I’d argue they also calculated they’d be successful. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have opened Pandora’s box in the first place.
I read the reports in these pages about how surprised the schools were to learn of opposition to their plans. That’s a bit like a firecracker going off in your hand, and when someone asks what happened, you say you don’t know.
But you are holding a struck match.
Pace won the NPU (Neighborhood Planning Unit) A board’s approval for a new front lower school building in February. It wants to tear down the brick mansion, formerly the Randall House, near the corner of West Paces and Rilman Road, and replace it with a new building.
Pace also has plans to build a parking lot and a natatorium and add a new athletic field and tennis court. The agreement reached with the neighborhood in 2007 prohibits most of this. We’re not sure what the school will do next other than seek city approval for the new lower school building.
Holy Spirit wants to move its lower school from Long Island Drive to the Mount Paran campus, which is a no-no according to the 2003 agreement with the neighborhood, which capped enrollment. The school would essentially double in size.
Holy Spirit Catholic Church — to which it is connected — needs a new parking deck and a new parish building. Part of those improvements, which will be in Sandy Springs, would include some new school facilities as well.
I realize some folks reading this have lived in their houses for more than 60 years. A majority of our little neighborhood, which includes Pace, bought their homes over the last few decades. In other words, most of us knew there was a growing school right around the corner.
In fact, several of our neighbors moved onto our street specifically to be close to Pace, where their children are in school. We are also fairly close to Westminster, which is another big draw.
That doesn’t give the schools the right to run roughshod over their neighbors. That would be counterproductive and that’s not what they are doing. They are simply attempting to negotiate a mutually beneficial solution to their growing pains. Not a blade of grass has been moved. Yet.
In the case of Holy Spirit, a perpetual zero-growth agreement was perhaps a win for the neighborhoods. However, whoever at the time signed that contract on behalf of the school had to be thinking one of two things: either the school was going to be in a new campus in two decades, or it would be out of business.
There’s just no way a school can give away its ability to grow. The neighborhood had to know that. I imagine it did, which is why they had the cannons at the ready.
The question, therefore, becomes less about what came first and more about what happens next. These schools are not going to pick up their stakes and move. Our neighborhoods benefit from the schools, and the schools benefit from the neighborhoods.
If I were drafting an agreement between a school and a neighborhood, that would be the first line. Everything else follows that simple premise.