Saturday, December 08, 2001

Business wants school to move

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A graphics firm in Price Hill wants Harmony Community School out of the industrial park where both are located and has appealed the school's location to Cincinnati's board of zoning appeals.

        Harlan Graphic Arts Services Inc. contends a school cannot be located in an industrial park zoned for manufacturing unless it is “incidental to a church,” under Cincinnati's zoning code.

        Churches, Sunday schools and other places of worship do not fall under zoning restrictions in most districts. Harmony officials, meanwhile, say a church rents space in its facility.

        A Harmony science teacher, the Rev. Steven Wheeler, conducts Sunday services for about a half-dozen people every Sunday for his church, Impact Christian Ministries said the school's attorney, Phyllis Brown.

        “The church uses a portion of the school building for services,” Ms. Brown said. “The church has contributed a number of volunteers for the school and is doing fund raising for the school.”

        But Harmony, a 500-student public charter school, is nonsectarian and therefore does not vio late the separation of church and state, she said.

        “There is not a constitutional ban on any relationship between a church and school,” she said. “It is a relationship that is allowed, and we are walking that line.”

        The Rev. Mr. Wheeler said he does not recruit students from the school and the only Harmony student who is a member of his church is his son.

        Harmony's reasoning for skirting the zoning is questionable, said attorney Matt Fellerhoff, who represents Harlan Graphics.

        Harlan Graphics' building is near Harmony's building atop a hill overlooking Cincinnati.

        Mr. Fellerhoff said the school does not fall under the definition as being incidental to Impact Christian Ministries because the church must be the primary user.

        Dottie Howe, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Education, said Harmony is not violating separation of church and state because public schools sometimes operate in sectarian facilities. The school, however, must be nonsectarian.

        Mr. Fellerhoff said the school, which relocated to the former Slush Puppie Corp. building in September, could jeopardize the property values of industrial park tenants and already has affected business adversely.

        Students walk up the hill to the school along a winding road, which does not have sidewalks, Mr. Fellerhoff said.

        Harlan Graphics employees “are concerned they're going to run into children,” he said. They “are very concerned about any liability they have.”

        The zoning board of appeals is scheduled to hear more evidence in the case on Dec. 17.


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