Bush School, neighbors work to improve surroundings - Former 'adversaries' turn relationship into productive one

The Neighbors of Bush Association and The Bush School in Madison Valley are working together to ensure that students receive high-quality education and that neighbors enjoy their living environment.

Although their relationship was somewhat adversarial from the group's inception in 1979 until the late '90s, the school and the association now meet regularly to coordinate neighbors' needs with school operations, especially in light of the school's major development project.

"I think that the neighborhood association is a helpful thing because it locates a group that the neighbors can be in partnership with," Bush School headmaster Frank Magusin said. "We have taken seriously the agreement we have made with the neighbors. In fact, since we have started the plans for the new gym, new parking facility and lower building facility, we've had neighbors and parents come in and approve of the plans."

Community involvement

Perhaps private schools located within residential areas, like Bush is, are in a unique position to learn to be directly involved with neighbors and the community. Bush communications director Andrew Sproule thinks so.

"Part of our program creates students that are both academically exceptional and good human beings," Sproule said. "Part of our educational program is teaching students how to be valuable members of the community."

Bush students have done community-service projects at Frank Park in Leschi and tutored younger students at nearby Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School.

"We have kids who have also helped the neighbors with chores," Magusin said.

However, the school's neighbors have not always been pleased with the behavior of all its students or with school plans.

When cigarette butts and other debris from the school began appearing in neighbors' yards, many of them began to take action.

Larry Kron, president of Neighbors of Bush, has been with the association since it the beginning. "At first, [the school] refused to listen to the neighbors," Kron asserted. "We kind of got started because the mess created by expansion and the streets being used for smoking purposes."

Then, in June 1985, Bush School officials applied for a construction permit to begin Wissner Hall but did not give much notice to the neighbors. According to Kron, many of the neighbors were appalled by what they perceived to be an "ugly box." A lawyer was summoned, and the building was redesigned to be more attractive.

Kron said this created an adversarial relationship between Neighbors of Bush and the school. This lasted until June 1998, when neighbors Betsy and Kirby Torrance, among the founders of the Neighbors of Bush Association, appealed to the city's land-use department to implement traffic, land maintenance and enrollment restrictions.

As a result, a school transportation coordinator was hired to implement and enforce parking laws at the school.

"That stipulated agreement was vital because it made the school have to report what its enrollment was, what its parking plans were and what events were going to take place that might inconvenience the neighbors," said John Coldewey, the group's first president.

Betsy Torrance said, "Traffic problems have gotten a lot better since they got a traffic supervisor. It is amazing how much better it is than it was 15 years ago."

The goal of the neighborhood association is to make sure everyone's needs are met, Sproule said. "Having the school here is a benefit for the community because we provide jobs and benefit to the landscape, but we need to make sure the neighbors are comfortable living here."

Model for others?

When Kron and Coldewey learned about recent concerns Madrona neighbors had with Epiphany School's expansion plans, they recalled their association's inception.

"It looked just like [it did] 25 years ago. Now, we are affiliating with the [Greater Madison Valley] community council, and what this has done is opened up the door to other types of connections with the [nearby] residents. So there is now a connection between Bush and the Neighbors of Bush and Martin Luther King Elementary School, which creates a smaller world."

According to Epiphany headmaster, George Edwards, his school plans to use the Neighbors of Bush association as a model for the Neighbors of the Epiphany School.

"If Epiphany would respond to the neighborhood like how Frank [Magusin] has responded to the neighbors, they may not have as many problems," Kron stated.

Staff writer Brian Kidd can be reached at needitor@nwlink.com.

[[In-content Ad]]