High school’s move spurs complaints in Fox Chase

Un­til re­cently, Chel­ten­ham-based Gos­pel of Grace Min­is­tries garnered per­haps its greatest no­tori­ety on the bas­ket­ball court when a team of teen­agers from the tiny Chris­ti­an con­greg­a­tion’s high school qual­i­fied for the state play­offs last March.

The Phil­adelphia In­quirer even pub­lished an art­icle about them.

But that was be­fore Gos­pel of Grace re­lo­cated its high school across county lines in­to Fox Chase in Au­gust without no­ti­fy­ing its new neigh­bors or loc­al elec­ted of­fi­cials.

Dozens of neigh­bors showed up at the bi-monthly meet­ing of the Fox Chase Homeown­ers As­so­ci­ation and Town Watch last Wed­nes­day seek­ing an­swers about why and how they ended up with a high school in their midst. They lodged nu­mer­ous com­plaints about the op­er­a­tion.

The school is housed in Fox Chase United Meth­od­ist Church at 201 Lo­ney St., but Gos­pel of Grace and its school are not Meth­od­ist.

A wo­man who iden­ti­fied her­self as a mem­ber of Fox Chase United ex­plained dur­ing last Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing that her con­greg­a­tion merged with a former Meth­od­ist con­greg­a­tion in Chel­ten­ham a while back and ac­quired its church at 315 Cent­ral Ave. The Chel­ten­ham church build­ing re­mained idle un­til Gos­pel of Grace began leas­ing it from Fox Chase United for re­li­gious ser­vices and a school serving stu­dents at the ele­ment­ary and sec­ond­ary levels.

Lead­ing up to the 2013-14 school year, en­roll­ment ex­ceeded a cap im­posed on the school by au­thor­it­ies in Chel­ten­ham Town­ship, the wo­man said. So, rather than force Gos­pel of Grace to turn away stu­dents, Fox Chase United agreed to host 30 stu­dents in grades sev­en through 12 at the Lo­ney Street site, with young­er grades re­main­ing on Cent­ral Av­en­ue.

“We can have 200 leg­ally (on Lo­ney Street),” the Fox Chase United mem­ber said. “We only have 30.”

Neigh­bors are seek­ing a second opin­ion on that with help from the Homeown­ers As­so­ci­ation and City Coun­cil­man Bri­an O’Neill. A couple of neigh­bors men­tioned the new school at a Homeown­ers As­so­ci­ation meet­ing in Septem­ber. It was the first time that the as­so­ci­ation’s board had been no­ti­fied of the school.

Neigh­bors gathered again on Nov. 10 at Fox Chase United to dis­cuss their con­cerns with the pas­tor, then a third time at the Nov. 13, then again a third time at the Nov. 13 Homeown­ers As­so­ci­ation meet­ing. Neigh­bors con­tend that the ar­range­ment gen­er­ates traffic prob­lems, stu­dent safety prob­lems and pub­lic safety prob­lems for the area. They also don’t ap­pre­ci­ate that nobody bothered to tell them be­fore­hand that a school was open­ing.

“Trans­par­ency should be our guideline,” one man said at last Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing.

Some neigh­bors called for a city zon­ing in­spec­tion of the prop­erty and a re­view of its zon­ing file.

An aide to state Rep. Kev­in Boyle said that he at­ten­ded the Nov. 10 meet­ing at Fox Chase United. Al­though Boyle has no of­fi­cial role in city zon­ing is­sues, he has re­ceived sev­er­al calls from con­stitu­ents about the school, ac­cord­ing to the aide, Jeff De­mp­sey. De­mp­sey told meet­ing-go­ers that his un­der­stand­ing is that the city is­sued a zon­ing vari­ance to Fox Chase United in the 1970s. O’Neill later told the Times that the vari­ance was in 1976, but it had noth­ing to do with run­ning a school. Fur­ther, the coun­cil­man said, churches are gen­er­ally al­lowed to con­duct edu­ca­tion­al pro­grams on-site when they in­volve their own mem­bers. In this case, the stu­dents are mem­bers of a sep­ar­ate con­greg­a­tion that isn’t even based in Phil­adelphia. O’Neill and the Fox Chase Homeown­ers plan to send let­ters to the city’s De­part­ment of Li­censes and In­spec­tion to re­quest a closer ex­am­in­a­tion of the site.

In the mean­time, the school is ex­pec­ted to con­tin­ue con­duct­ing daily classes in Fox Chase. The bas­ket­ball team uses House­man Re­cre­ation Cen­ter in Sum­mer­dale for prac­tices and games. The sea­son of­fi­cially began on Monday.

In oth­er neigh­bor­hood news:

• Amer­ic­an Le­gion Loudensla­ger Post 366 in­vites the pub­lic to a pan­cake break­fast on Sunday, Dec. 1, from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Ad­mis­sion costs $6 and in­cludes a buf­fet of pan­cakes, eggs, saus­age, juice and cof­fee.

• The an­nu­al Fox Chase-Rockledge Busi­ness As­so­ci­ation Christ­mas Tree Light­ing will be on Sat­urday, Dec. 7, from 2 to 5 p.m., at Lions Park, Ox­ford Av­en­ue and Lo­ney Street. Sea­son­al treats will be shared at this fam­ily event, which will in­clude a vis­it from Santa Claus. ••

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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