Orchard Park Presbyterian Church shares many ties with its neighborhood elementary school, besides its name.
Before moving into its current building at 106th Street and Westfield Blvd. approximately 60 years ago, the congregation held services at Orchard Park Elementary, which was brand new at the time. Since then, the two groups have developed a partnership through tutoring, supply drives, school break meal programs and more.
“The school and the church have always anchored the neighborhood,” said Shelly Wood, OPPC senior pastor. “So, losing one of the two is a significant loss.”
That’s why Wood opened the church July 10 to the community for a conversation about how the neighborhood can move forward in light of a June 25 Carmel Clay Schools board of trustees decision to close Orchard Park Elementary and open a new campus more than 5 miles away. Approximately two dozen residents gathered at the meeting to ask questions, support each other and discuss next steps.
Wood asked that the discussion not turn political, but she acknowledged it would be a difficult conversation to have.
“This is really painful and hard work. We can focus on moving forward, but we also just need to stop for a second and say there’s pain in (this situation), and there’s some feeling of injustice,” Wood said to the attendees. “I feel like there needs to be some accountability to that as well.”
Former CCS school board member Bruce Breeden, who attends OPPC, reviewed the timeline of events that led to the vote to close OPE and recounted highlights of a recent discussion he had with Roger McMichael, CCS associate superintendent for business affairs, who made the recommendation to close OPE.
Breeden, who did not officially speak on behalf of CCS, said the district is planning to form a committee to determine what happens to the OPE building when students move out. Possibilities include leasing it to the Carmel Dads’ Club, opening a low-cost day care center or using it for Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation purposes, he said.
“There is no intention by Carmel Clay Schools to sell it to a developer to make it become something else, residential or whatever,” Breeden said.
The school is expected to remain open through the 2020-21 school year. After that, Breeden said it would be “reasonable” to anticipate that most of the students who live closest to OPE would be redistricted to Forest Dale Elementary.
During table discussions, attendees shared frustrations with communication from CCS regarding the issue and the process that led to the decision to close the school. Some asked why the vote took place before a demographic study planned for this fall and less than a week before a new superintendent took office.
“I don’t think anything monumental should be done without a superintendent in place,” said Colleen Mabry, an OPE parent who lives near the school.
Others questioned the timing of the school closure being announced less than three months after the City of Carmel annexed Home Place following a court battle that lasted more than a decade.
“There were a lot of Home Place residents who, at this point in time, think whatever they do doesn’t matter, anyway,” said Becky Lime, who lives near the school. “If it wasn’t done on purpose, it was really, really bad, unfortunate, thoughtless timing.”
Wood plans to compile a list of discussion items and ideas from the meeting to send to attendees, the school board and Carmel City Council.