Durham Nativity School wants a football pitch for its students. The neighbors of the school have other ideas.


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

DNS does not have a gymnasium or formal recreational facility, so the school is currently developing a football pitch at its Old North Durham location, one of the city’s oldest, predominantly white neighborhoods.

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

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

“Between November and mid-March, there’s no room for them to go outside and play,” said Baker. “We think the football field would be a safe place for them 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 happen without a fight.

Some owners of the Old North Durham Neighborhood Association have said they support the school’s initial plans for an unlit grass field. But now some residents are voicing opposition to a project for a turf plot with lights mounted on 50-foot poles in the middle of the dense residential neighborhood.

Neighbor Adam Haile said residents were made aware of the school’s initial plans for a football field, but that “somehow” the project had been improved without the community being informed. .

“Residents weren’t aware of any of this until construction began in the past few weeks, when many were upset with the bait and the switch,” Haile told the INDY in an email.

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

Baker told the INDY, however, that “at this time, we do not intend to lease the land to older or adult members of the league.”

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

“The residents thanked them for this,” Haile wrote, “but there was still skepticism as to whether this was enough and why the residents were not included until after the plans were made and the start. construction. “

Meanwhile, Haile says that “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 turbulent history of issues between the church and the neighborhood.

“In particular, the school rented the site to a religious congregation which organized very loud and amplified field services every Sunday morning at 8 a.m., including a group of seven musicians,” he wrote. . “Residents found the church and school were not responding to their requests to moderate the volume or start later.” Other locals say the church has actually lowered its music.

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

“The school has not been a super-neighborhood with 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 enjoys riding her scooter around campus.

Meanwhile, Dardig says DNS has done a good job of prioritizing their neighbors’ concerns about the Enlightened Field.

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

Baker said after the city’s planning department approved the original plan, school board members believed it would be best to use artificial turf to keep the land green all year round and include lights for evening football.

After two years and the approval of “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 couldn’t erect the lighting unless they got a special use permit. of the city’s adjustment council, which the council will now consider.

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

DNS board members reached out to the neighborhood to attend several town hall meetings after word of the lighting proposal got around, Baker said.

Baker said the lighting plan originally called for the lights to be directed downward and extend 30 feet in circumference. But after talking with neighbors, the school decided to use LED lighting that 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 lighting washout off the playing field.”

Susan Johns says it’s important for the school and the community to find 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 lighted lot with reasonable commitments to make sure the neighborhood is respected,” Dardig said.

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

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