Gospel of Grace School to find new home after academic year

Leaders of a Fox Chase church may have had a change of heart regarding their effort to prevent the city from shutting down a private secondary school that the church opened last year to the surprise and dismay of neighbors.

Interim Pastor David Brown of Fox Chase United Methodist Church announced last Wednesday that he does not expect the school to operate in his church beyond the current academic year.

“The school will not be there after they close in June, so there’s no issue there,” Brown said during the bimonthly meeting of the Fox Chase Homeowners Association and Town Watch. “And I would hope as other projects come up, the church will continue to be the good neighbor that they’ve been for well over 100 years.”

As for a pending appeal filed by the church with the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspection, Brown said, “I think that we will be withdrawing the appeal. I think that’s what’s been decided.”

A group of neighbors has been at odds with Fox Chase United, at Loney and Fillmore streets, over the school since the start of the current academic year last fall. Nearby residents began noticing teenagers arriving at and departing from the church each school day. The neighbors soon learned that an institution known as Gospel of Grace Christian School had moved about 30 students in grades seven through 12 into Fox Chase United as part of an agreement with the church.

Previously, Gospel of Grace had been leasing the former Cheltenham United Methodist Church in nearby Cheltenham Township for its elementary and secondary students. Fox Chase United owns that property, too. When the school’s enrollment grew beyond the legal capacity of the Cheltenham site, Fox Chase United invited the school to bring some students to the Fox Chase site.

Neighbors complained of noise, traffic and public safety threats, among other quality-of-life issues. Further, they questioned how someone could open a school without input from them. They sought help from the Fox Chase Homeowners Association, City Councilman Brian O’Neill and other officials.

Church officials claimed that they had consulted with L&I and been informed that the school was allowed there as a matter of right. Nonetheless, the city agency inspected the site and in January issued a violation notice to the church, claiming that the school could not be considered an “accessory” use of the property. That is, it would be legal if the church had opened its own school. But in this case, the church and the school are separate entities, according to the violation.

Fox Chase United filed an appeal. The L&I Review Board is scheduled to hear the case at a public session on June 10. In advance of last week’s Homeowners and Town Watch meeting, O’Neill said he intended to attend the hearing on behalf of constituents. At the time, Brown had not disclosed that the church was planning to withdraw the appeal.

After Brown’s announcement, neighbors applauded. Homeowners President Matt Braden said that his organization would continue to monitor the appeal pending the scheduled hearing.

In unrelated business:

• Fox Chase resident Jean Gavin recited a letter she had written to Mayor Michael Nutter advocating for the installation of sidewalks along Oxford Avenue between Rockwell and Hartel avenues.

The absence of sidewalks on those blocks leaves no direct, safe walking route between the Fox Chase business district and the Five Points business district in Burholme, said Gavin, who added that high weeds, billboards and trees block pedestrian access along the highly traveled vehicle route, which serves as a state highway (Route 232).

A surface-level commuter railroad intersects Oxford Avenue in the area.

• Capt. Frank Palumbo, the commander of the 2nd Police District, told residents that, despite an increase in homicides in the district so far this year, the Fox Chase area has been spared from the spike in violence. Meanwhile, robberies and burglaries are down for the year in the district.

Palumbo said that detectives are making progress in the investigations of two home invasion homicide cases, including a double murder on the 300 block of Stevens St. on Jan. 19 and a triple murder on the the 6300 block of Martins Mill Road on Feb. 13.

• The Cpl. John Loudenslager American Legion Post 366, 7976 Oxford Ave., will sell artificial poppies in honor of fallen veterans on May 23 and 24 outside the Legion hall. Poppies represent rebirth because in the aftermath of World War I, they were the first wildflowers to grow in the barren battlefields.

The Legion post also invites the public to participate in annual Memorial Day ceremonies. In advance of the May 26 commemoration, members of Boy Scouts Troop 290 and Cub Scouts Pack 290 will decorate veterans’ graves in Lawnview Cemetery. On Memorial Day, a procession will meet at Vincent’s Pizza, 412 Huntingdon Pike in Rockledge, at 10 a.m. and walk to the cemetery.

In another Legion activity, the Post 366 baseball team, defending champions of the Philadelphia Legion league, will play its home opener on May 24 at 5 p.m. at Fox Chase Recreation Center. ••