Crowd attends Monarch's Way hearing

Shawn Hardy
This large home on Angle Road in the Village of Kauffman, where Monarch's Way, a residential school for at-risk girls is proposed, was the subject of a conditional use hearing Tuesday night in Antrim Township. SHAWN HARDY/ECHO PILOT

Antrim Township supervisors and members of the planning commission listened to nearly three hours of often impassioned testimony Tuesday night at a conditional use hearing for the site of a proposed residential Christian school for at-risk girls.

Carissa Martin wants to open Monarch's Way in the large brick home at 7465 Angle Road in the Village of Kauffman. The property is zoned agricultural.

More than 60 people packed the township meeting room, filling the chairs, standing along the walls and spilling out into the hallway of the township office.

In addition to Martin's testimony, speakers ranged from Kauffman residents, the majority opposed to the proposed location, to guidance counselors, religious leaders and other community members adamant about the need to help young people.

No decisions were made Tuesday. If the planning commission makes a recommendation on the conditional use, it will be at its meeting Dec. 3. Supervisors are expected to make an announcement on Dec. 11.

About Monarch's Way

Martin opened the testimony with her vision for the home built by the late Raymond Wishard that has sat vacant for 13 years.

The goal is to open an at-will, year-round school with eight girls ages 11 to 17 in August 2019 and grow gradually. The building can house up to 20 girls.

The girls must want to be there for help as they struggle with issues such as eating disorders, self-harm, sexual abuse, addictions, depression and unplanned pregnancies.

Its core components are:

  • Academic Achievement: Small classes and individual attention to develop a love of learning.
  • Core Culture Disciplines: Life skills including, but not limited to, responsibility, etiquette, character, finances, health, fitness, giving back, missions and recreation.
  • Counseling and Coaching: Counseling model "Choices That Bring Change" combines biblical principles of healing and unconditional love with clinical interventions.
  • Family Environment: Houseparents, a married couple, live in the home and model healthy family relationships while incorporating Christian virtues in all aspects of daily living.

In the neighborhood 

A number of Kauffman residents testified at the hearing. None disagreed with the idea behind Monarch's Way, but most do not believe the Angle Road home is the right location.

Many cited problems with the existing alternative education facility, originally known as Manito, in the former Browns Mill School.

When a school for the deaf was proposed for the former Browns Mill School, local residents were not opposed to it. However, the school for the deaf was not successful and Manito moved in.

Dianne Smith, who lives with her husband, Robert, next door to the site proposed for Monarch's Way, detailed problems with students from the alternative school loitering in the area, smoking on private properties and being rowdy with vehicles.

Matt Widder, "the other neighbor," said, "great idea, horrible location." His concerns included what could come to the property if Monarch's Way does not succeed.

Caleb Bruner grew up in the neighborhood. His parents still live there and he is planning to move back soon.

He questioned the "unproven business model" and said "I get what you're doing, but the community bears the burden if it goes belly-up."

Supervisor Fred Young asked about paying for the school. Martin explained families will contribute, if they can, on a sliding scale and there also will be donors and grants supporting Monarch's Way.

Justin Cradduck was one Angle Road resident who spoke in favor, saying the community needs to accept a small risk and resist saying "not in my backyard."

"Why does it have to be in my backyard?" asked Robert Smith, adding there is a lot of real estate available in Antrim Township, "why does it have to be the Wishard mansion?"

"It is my backyard," said Alisa Miller of Browns Mill Road. "I do have to care about my community, I have to take care of my community. Please protect my community for me."

The need for help 

Martin talked about an "epidemic of brokenness" and her 19-year vision for the property.

Jen Everetts and Dan Barrett, Greencastle-Antrim High School guidance counselors, were among those who testified about the need for places like Monarch's Way.

Everetts said there are 141 students enrolled in the school district's online virtual academy and nearly half make that choice for emotional health issues.

"I see so many concerns as a counselor," Everetts said.

Barrett said he sits with the students every day and that the family unit in this country is broken. With Monarch's Way, "I see people stepping out of fear and into love," Barrett said.

"Don't let this opportunity pass you by," said the Rev. Steve Delaney of The Spring in Chambersburg. He talked about adult felons, addicts and prostitutes who all cite something that started spiraling out of control when they were young.

"Here's an opportunity to get ahead of the cycle" and redirect the paths of girls and ultimately their children and other future generations, Delaney said.

Angela Monn, executive director of Rhodes Grove, a Christian camp and conference center, also located in the Village of Kauffman, said, "Our counselors hear unspeakable things" and they see campers who need care, compassion and love, but only get them for five days during the summer.

Love was echoed by Jamie Reynolds, an Antrim Township resident who shared the story of her daughter, taken in by the family at age 12 as a foster child with a history of abuse and neglect.

"She has shown us over the years you just need love," Reynolds said.

Conditional use 

Different opinions on the conditional use of the property in an agricultural zone for Monarch's Way were brought up.

Sylvia House, township zoning officer, said schools are a permitted conditional use in an agricultural zone and "the only way to deny this is to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this is not a school." Township ordinances don't define a school, but House testified the curriculum proposed for Monarch's Way has been presented, it will be accredited with the state and graduating girls will receive a diploma.

"We do not excluding boarding as part of a school," House said. Asked about possible conditions, she suggested fire regulations, keeping the look of a home and maintaining accreditation.

House said a residential school fits the area whether people want it there or not.

Township resident Bob Coladonato had a different interpretation. He said the word "boarding" is not mentioned in the agriculture zone in township regulations. He said "boarding" is mentioned in medium density residential and community commercial zones.

"This proposal doesn't have anything to do with agriculture," Coladonato said.

Attorney Ed Wine, representing the Smiths, said he applauds the effort of Monarch's Way, but the township needs "to focus on the zoning issues ... it's not about the value of the program or the future of the Wishard house."

He submitted court cases raising questions as to whether Monarch's Way qualifies as a school.

"There is an educational component, but that doesn't make it a school," Wine said.

If it is approved as a conditional use, Wine asked that one condition be that another hearing be held after a one-year trial period.