Soccer field

Durham Nativity School wants a soccer field for its students. The school’s neighbors have other ideas.

DUrham Nativity School serves a unique and noble purpose: Provide black and brown boys from families eligible for the federal lunch program a tuition-free education.

DNS has no gymnasium or formal recreational facilities, so the school is currently developing a football pitch at its Old North Durham location, one of the oldest and predominantly white areas of the city.

The Durham Board of Adjustment will hold a public hearing on May 25 to determine whether they will accept the school’s request to allow lighting on the artificial turf pitch. The original plans for the football pitch, which did not include lighting or turf, were approved in January 2018.

DNS board member Jim Baker said a lighted football pitch would allow the school’s 60 or so students to play outside during the winter months while waiting to go home.

“Between November and mid-March, there’s no room for them to go out and play,” Baker said. “We think the football pitch would be a safe place to play instead of being locked inside. It’s a good thing for the community and a good thing for the school. This is really our intention.

However, the construction of the land does not come without a fight.

Some owners of the Old North Durham Neighborhood Association say they backed the school’s original plans for an unlit grass pitch. But now some residents are voicing their opposition to a proposed grass pitch with lights mounted on 50ft poles in the middle of the dense residential neighborhood.

Neighbor Adam Haile said residents were told about the school’s initial plans for a football pitch, but ‘somehow’ the project was improved without the community being involved. informed.

“Residents were unaware of all of this until construction began over the past few weeks, at which time many were upset by the bait and switch,” Haile told the INDIA in an email.

Haile said some neighbors wonder if the land will be leased to private leagues rather than just providing a sports and recreational outlet for students.

Baker told the INDIAhowever, that “at this time, we have no intention of renting the land to senior or adult league members”.

Haile says school officials have told neighbors they plan to spend more to minimize the lighting’s impact on the neighborhood.

“Residents thanked them for this,” Haile wrote, “but there was still skepticism about whether it was enough and why residents weren’t included until plans were made and the construction has begun.”

Meanwhile, Haile says “a few residents” whose homes are adjacent to the property “are very upset” and are asking the neighborhood to oppose the project.

Haile pointed to what he says is a checkered history of issues between the church and the neighborhood.

“In particular, the school leased the site to a church congregation that held very loud and amplified outdoor services every Sunday morning at 8 a.m., including a seven-piece band,” it said. he writes. “Residents found the church and school unresponsive to their requests to moderate the volume or start later.” Other residents say the church has actually turned down its music.

In 2017, James Dardig and his wife Susan Johns moved into their home on North Roxboro Street. They can see part of the future football field from their porch. They see the school as transformative, but they also point to the neighborhood’s history of conflict with the DNS.

“The school hasn’t been very close to its neighbors,” Dardig said.

He said his own experience with the school has been positive, however. Some residents park their cars in the school’s 78-car parking lot. Others played basketball on goals that have since been uprooted for the construction of the football field. The couple’s daughter likes to ride scooters on campus.

Meanwhile, Dardig says DNS has done a good job of prioritizing its neighbors’ concerns about the lit field.

“They say all the right things,” he said.

Baker said after the initial plan was approved by the city’s planning department, school board members thought it would be best to use artificial turf to keep the pitch green year-round and d include lights for evening football.

After two years and approvals from “nine or 10 different departments,” the upgrades were approved by the planning department in February, Baker said.

The plan was stalled last month, however, when planning officials contacted school board members and told them they could not erect the lighting unless they obtained a special use permit. of the city’s adjustment board, which the board will now consider.

Baker called the planning department. “They said, ‘We screwed up. We made a mistake,” he said.

DNS board members reached out to the neighborhood to participate in several town hall meetings after the lighting proposal circulated, Baker said.

Baker said the lighting plan originally called for the lights to point downward and extend 30 feet in circumference. But after talking with neighbors, the school decided to use LED lighting which would reduce the circumference to 22 feet.

“What we were trying to tell the neighbors is that it takes a lot of money that we don’t have,” Baker said. “We put a lot of thought and effort and more cost into avoiding a lighting washout outside the playing field.”

Susan Johns says it’s important for the school and the community to establish a balance of trust.

Her husband agrees.

“At the end of the day, none of this is the fault of the 60 kids who need a lit lot with reasonable commitments to ensure the neighborhood is respected,” Dardig said.

Follow Durham writer Thomasi McDonald on Twitter or send an e-mail to [email protected].

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