By Jody Steinberg
Ready or not, here they come. Four new portable classrooms are scheduled to roll onto the Ashford Park Elementary School grounds any day now, where they will be securely installed behind the gym on the lower fields.
While many in the community see the trailers as a sign of progress and embrace the much-needed classroom space, others consider them an imposition and are not ready to see trailers mar their image of the campus. Nonetheless, trailers become a permanent fixture at the growing Brookhaven elementary school.
“Aesthetically, it’s not necessarily pleasing, but I don’t think it’s a negative at all,” Brookhaven real estate agent Collette McDonald said. “It’s a sign of growth, and in real estate we like to see growth.”
Portable classrooms have become a fact of life at schools across the country as student populations shift faster than buildings can be altered, and their arrival is often an unwelcome sight to residents who like their neighborhood school and grounds just the way they are. Some Ashford Park residents are unhappy with school officials for their decision to place unsightly trailers in the most noticeable locations on the campus, which is surrounded on every side by single-family homes.
A year ago, Ashford Park’s neighbors raised vehement objections when the first four trailers were placed at the corner of Cravenridge and Pamela roads. Citing student safety and access to the building and electricity, school and county administrators told the disgruntled neighbors that the prominent placement was the only option, and erected a fence to partially obscure them from the street.
With four more trailers on the way, administrators tried to head off the backlash by holding community meetings and asking neighbors for their input.
Jim Eyre, whose home on Cravenridge faces the first four trailers, spent hours drafting plans and proposals for placing them in less visible areas. But in the end, laments Eyre, school officials’ decision to place the trailers near the gym only served to frustrate the neighbors who suggested less obvious placement.
“We’re disappointed that there’s no forward thinking to plan for growth. Trailers in the front yard, the back yard, they seem to be thrown wherever the action is,” said Eyre, who doesn’t think the school has made a clear case for its decisions. “They’re reacting on a knee-jerk basis and only thinking of the immediate.”
“Neighbors were involved in the discussions, but ultimately, the principal [Toni Fallon] and the DeKalb County schools representative chose what was going to be the most cost-effective for the county, the safest for the children, and overall the best decision,” counters Dianna Williams, outgoing co-president of the PTA.
The area close to the gym has better drainage, she said, and is accessible to bathrooms, sources of electricity and a covered breezeway.
The trailers signify confidence in the school and the neighborhood, adds Williams. Enrollment exceeded 400 students last year and continues to rise. At one point last year, Ashford Park was on DeKalb schools’ list of proposed closures due to its low enrollment numbers. But the capacity of the building limits enrollment, she said, and does not reflect the growth in the neighborhood, she said.
“If you drive through Ashford Park on any afternoon, you can’t help but notice the number of strollers, toddlers and kids on bikes. The park is completely packed with these young families,” Williams said. “What we’re seeing is that the young people who moved in and revitalized the neighborhood are having kids, and we’re happy to be their school of choice.”