What was once considered a simple and fun time for children now means irritated neighbors and dissatisfied parents. Recess at Montessori Country Day Care center has been causing disagreements over the noise level for years.
The layout of the center on 1811 Renoir Ave. has ignited arguments between local residents and parents about the center’s noise level for the past 15 years.
“Quite frankly, for about two years we thought we had solved the problem,” said John Hillis, owner of the center. “We are trying to be respectable of the neighbors, but if you live right next door to us we can’t make the children totally quiet. Unfortunately I think this issue has gotten out of hand.”
The day care center was constructed in 1983 on a three-fourths acre parcel designed to accommodate up to 144 children. Many say that the noise problem is not due to the children, but to the flawed layout of the center’s play areas.
“This is not about the children or Davis mothers and their children,'” wrote a group of five residents in an August 2009 letter to City Manager Bill Emlen. “This is about how Mr. Hillis operates his private, for profit, business. It is about how he has laid out his operation, and how he generates up to 90 [decibels] of daily noise in neighbors’ properties because of the way he has chosen to configure his play areas – not because of the children.”
Other individuals and parents say the conflict centers around allowing children to play outside.
Will Portello, a parent of two children who attend Montessori, said layout is not the issue.
“It really boils down to Montessori Country Day [allowing children to] play outside without violating the city noise ordinance,” he said. “If the kids go outside, they are going to make noise. Nothing is going to change that. Someone will always be unhappy.”
Portello said child care and living in Davis is very expensive, so to find a quality program that offers affordable education, including bilingual teaching and dependable staff, is difficult.
“When you have a facility that has been running for a number of years, and then someone moves in complaining and limiting them, it imposes more and more costs on the facility owner,” Portello said.
In June 2008 Montessori and the local neighbors agreed to share the cost of implementing a 10-foot sound wall to provide relief to all parties. Sound engineer Steve Pettyjohn included with the noise analysis a series of suggestions that were neither implemented nor part of the original agreement, said Katherine Hess, community development director for the City of Davis.
Hillis implemented other solutions that might mitigate the noise such as lessening the children’s hours outside and reducing the number of children attending Montessori. Currently, the children play outside for about a total of three hours a day Monday through Friday between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
“I go out there on that playground, and I enjoy the sound,” Hillis said. “We aren’t talking about unusual school noises; we are talking about 50-60 children outside having fun. They need exercise and they need to be able to run around.”
In Dec. 2009 Davis City Council unanimously voted to direct the city staff to investigate if noise problems still existed and formulate an agreement.
At the meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor and Mayor Ruth Asmundson were in support of rewriting the noise ordinance law to exclude schools, preschools and childcare facilities. However, the issue did not pass, so Saylor withdrew the proposal discussion until the noise situation is settled.
City Council told the parties involved to try to find a solution and return no later than May if the issue fails to be resolved.
“Everyone would like to see this resolved,” Hess said. “Certainly, the city staff would. We are continuing to try and talk to the neighbors and property owners to reach a conclusion that is satisfactory for everyone.”
SAMANTHA BOSIO can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.