It has been a month since our last update regarding the District's efforts to acquire property as a way of answering our challenges with increasing enrollment. As the school year is drawing to a close, we wanted to update you again, as some significant developments have occurred.
As a reminder, Lower Merion's enrollment is the fastest-growing in the state and we anticipate our student population could increase by close to 1000 students in the next decade. The administration has stated that the preferred option to facing this challenge is moving fifth grade to the middle school level and constructing a new middle school, for grades 5-8, which will take pressure off the existing elementary schools and existing middle schools.
Last month, we told you about the letters of intent that were issued for four properties, which were being considered as sites either for a new school or for playing fields associated with a new school. Here are the updates:
Friends Central Lower School is off the table, as they have indicated they are not interested in selling and the District cannot condemn a site already in use for educational purposes.
On May 22, 2018, Lower Merion Township Board of Commissioners President Dan Bernheim hosted a meeting with representatives of Lower Merion School District, Main Line Health, St. Charles Seminary and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at the Lower Merion Township offices. The purpose of the meeting was to explore options related to the Seminary, in particular, the viability of the property for a new District middle school. Since the Seminary intends to use the entire 70 acres of the site for at least the next five years as a seminary, all agreed, after lengthy and thoughtful discussion, that the property is not a viable option for a District middle school. The District thanks President Commissioner Bernheim for arranging this meeting.
At last night's School Board meeting, the Board voted in favor of purchasing Islamic Foundation Center, at 1860 Montgomery Ave. with the conditions that 1) additional field space could be found 2) the buildings are not re-classified as Class 1 and that 3) zoning considerations to allow a school are approved.
Tomorrow night, June 13, at 6 p.m., the Township Building and Planning Committee could vote to recommend preparation of an ordinance to reclassify the mansion and carriage house at the Islamic Foundation Center as Class 1 buildings. That would make demolishing the buildings very difficult and would mean the site would become impractical and cost-prohibitive for a new school.
President of the Board of School Directors, Dr. Melissa R. Gilbert, had agreed that the District would not file a demolition permit for the site in the time between the last Building and Planning Committee meeting to the meeting tomorrow. Residents who would like to see a school built on that site are urged to contact their Commissioners before tomorrow night to ask them to vote against the historic re-classification. To find out who your commissioner is and how to contact him/her, please go to this page: http://www.lowermerion.org/services/township-secretary-s-office/board-of-commissioners/commissioners
Finally, there has been much publicity about the District's interest in all or some of Stoneleigh. While real estate experts working on behalf of the District continue to search for other potential middle school sites and solutions within the Township, Stoneleigh remains an option. A bill under consideration in Harrisburg, however, could take this option off the table as well. The bill would prohibit taking lands that are in trust as Open Space via eminent domain/condemnation. It should be noted that if the Islamic Foundation property remains useable (i.e. not designated Class One by the Commissioners), that could eliminate the need for condemnation of all of Stoneleigh, though the District would still need to find additional field space.
If the District cannot acquire an appropriate site in a timely manner, Neighborhood Stabilization will need to be implemented to provide adequate space for all of our students in the coming years. In the short run, the District is requesting an extension of the time that the modular classrooms at Penn Wynne Elementary can remain on-site.
Should there be additional updates, the District will continue to provide them over the summer. We hope you and your children enjoy the break.