At a special meeting on Friday, Dec. 21, 2018, the Lower Merion Board of School Directors voted to exercise its right of Eminent Domain on two adjacent sites: a 10.4-acre site at 1835 County Line Road and a three-acre site at 1800 W. Montgomery Ave., both in Villanova. This vote represents an important step in Lower Merion School District's ongoing effort to deal with the challenges posed by enrollment growth.
Not only are these combined sites the best available choice for fields for the 21st-century middle school that the District is planning for 1860 Montgomery Avenue, but the condemnation will keep the property in use for the residents of Lower Merion Township and Narberth, rather than enabling Villanova University to take the property off the tax rolls for its private development use.
To address the current overcrowding and continued increased enrollment, the Lower Merion School District (LMSD) plans to build a new middle school for Grades 5-8 at 1860 Montgomery Avenue. That site does not provide adequate space for all of the necessary athletic fields.
Therefore, the District has been actively pursuing properties for field space. As part of those efforts over the summer, the District began negotiations to buy the properties at 1835 County Line Road and at 1800 W. Montgomery in Villanova.
In the course of negotiations, the District learned the owners of the properties were also negotiating with Villanova University. Earlier this fall, although the sellers had indicated the District offers were basically acceptable with minor revisions, the agreements of sale were never returned to the District. The District later learned the sellers had executed Agreements of Sale with Villanova University.
Under the terms of the District's proposed offer, the owners of 1835 County Line would receive $9.95 million and the owner of 1800 W. Montgomery will would receive $2.965 million. Both would be allowed to remain on their properties with construction not beginning until 2023. This is possible because, though the new middle school is scheduled to open in 2022, 7th and 8th graders (who take part in school athletic teams and need the fields) will not be transitioned into the new school the first year.
After the vote, Dr. Melissa Gilbert, President of the Lower Merion Board of School Directors, said, "The Board is thrilled that we are able to acquire these properties. It's a win-win for our community. The sellers are being appropriately compensated. Our students get the best school and fields that we can provide. And all of the taxpayers who support our schools will reap the benefits as well."
"For the District, these properties have many advantages over others under consideration – such as Spring Mill Road. And I'm confident our residents would rather see the land being used by their neighbors than by college students who don't live in Lower Merion or Narberth," she added.
What about the properties on Spring Mill Road? The Board approved purchasing them for field space.
In investigating those properties, wetlands were discovered that will make them more expensive and more difficult to develop for field use.
What are the advantages of these properties over Spring Mill, that justify paying more for them?
- The properties are closer to the middle school site, which will result in reduced transportation costs.
- The properties have buildings on them that do not have to be torn down and can be used for academic purposes
- They are located on a more accessible road
- They are flat, while Spring Mill has a hill, which will make field construction and layout easier
Could the District keep both the Spring Mill properties and these additional properties?
The Board will reassess the need for the Spring Mill properties once further inspections can be performed on these latest anticipated acquisitions.