Chesco site for special-needs children may faceclosure

Posted: June 28, 2014

Eleven-year-old Ryan Dougherty, who has Down syndrome, looks forward all year to summer camp at a Chester County farm. There he has learned to overcome his fear of animals and improve his social skills.

But people at the Barn at Spring Brook Farm, where children with special needs help care for the animals, say it could close Aug. 31 if Pocopson Township does not give it more time to raise money to meet zoning requirements.

"I don't know how I would break that to him," said Ryan's mother, Danielle.

The Barn, open since 2006, enrolls about 90 students during its six-week summer day camp. About 16 children per week attend one-on-one educational sessions with staff and animals.

After a neighbor complained to the township about traffic and noise in 2012, the township inspected the property and found code violations. After a series of zoning hearings, the township granted the Barn a conditional use agreement in December 2013 with a list of criteria that the Barn must meet by Sept. 1 to stay open.

Attempts to keep the Barn's doors open have picked up in the last few weeks, since the nonprofit mailed out a letter saying it might have to close. Two online petitions have collected more than 3,570 electronic signatures, and a supporter started a fund-raising campaign on that had raised $300 as of Thursday evening.

The Barn has done some of the necessary work, including installing lighted exit signs and a fence. But Dan Stark, the Barn's executive director, said the organization will likely need from $80,000 to $100,000 to make more of the required upgrades. They include installing a new handicapped-accessible ramp and removing trees for a new entrance.

"We're not arguing that the work shouldn't be done," Stark said. "It's the time frame we've been given to do the work."

Stark said several local construction companies have offered to give discounted services over the last few days.

Ross Unruh, Pocopson Township's solicitor, said the Board of Supervisors has been working for two years to cooperate with the Barn.

"The township is being painted as uncooperative and trying to shut the school down," he said, "which is the furthest from the truth."

610-313-8207 @MichaelleBond

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