*Updated May 2021
1. Why is LMSD planning to build a new middle school?
LMSD has the fastest-growing student population in Pennsylvania. Growth is due to several factors including housing turnover, decreasing private-school enrollment and construction of new, multi-family residential complexes. Enrollment growth means that many of our existing schools are nearing or at capacity now. Projections show the student population is expected to continue to grow in upcoming years, so additional capacity is required.
2. What will the new school be called?
At its October 2021 meeting, the Lower Merion Board of School Directors approved the name “Black Rock Middle School.” The name was recommended by a committee of teachers, administrators, parents/guardians and community members for its connection to the distinctive serpentine formation of black rocks in the area, which may have drawn the Lenni Lenape to what is now Lower Merion Township.
3. Where will the new school be?
The new school will be located at 1860 Montgomery Ave. in Villanova, with field space at 1800 W. Montgomery Ave. and 1835 County Line Rd.
4. Why aren’t the fields at the same site as the school?
The property at 1860 Montgomery is a big hill and doesn’t have sufficient acreage for fields for all of the PIAA sports in which 7th and 8th graders participate.
5. Who will go to the new middle school?
The new middle school, which is planned to open in 2022, will serve students in grades 5-8 from Penn Wynne and Gladwyne elementary schools.
6. Why those two elementary schools?
The new school is in the catchment for GES, so it will be the closes school for those students. All PWES students are already bused to middle school so busing to the new school will not be a major change. The other four elementary schools have students in the walk zones for BCMS or WVMS. It is most efficient not to bus students to a farther school when they could walk to a closer one.
7. Will all students attend the first year, or just fifth and sixth graders?
All students in grades 5-8 from the Penn Wynne and Gladwyne elementary school catchments will attend the new middle school when it opens in Sept. 2022.
8. Will the sports fields be ready for seventh and eighth graders to participate in PIAA sports in 2021-22?
The off-site fields will likely not be ready for the opening of the new school. The Administration is making plans for teams to practice and play at other off-site fields (at other LMSD schools, LMT parks or rented locations) temporarily, or for students to return to BCMS and WVMS to play with their former classmates on combined teams for 2022-2023 season.
9. Won't the PWES students have a long ride?
The LMSD transportation department endeavors to keep all rides under 35 minutes. Traffic studies looking at the rides between the PWES catchment and the new middle school are underway and routes will be optimized to minimize bus times. It should also be noted that while working adults seldom enjoy commutes, observations of students show that they use bus time to socialize with friends, finish homework or reading, or just to relax or listen to music.
10. What would the implications of the new school be on the District's overall transportation operations?
The new school will likely require additional buses. The Transportation Department is currently working on developing the most efficient plan to meet the new middle school’s needs. Efficiencies include optimizing the number of students assigned to each bus, reviewing and adjusting bus stops and routes to minimize the distance for each bus run and utilizing routing software and driver input to develop more effective and efficient routes that take into account logistics, traffic patterns, etc.
11. How will the new grade configurations effect curricular programming?
Dr. McGloin, the assistant superintendent, and Dr. Gaudioso, the director of elementary curriculum, are working with academic leadership teams from all of the existing elementary and middle schools, along with volunteer parents and guardians, to explore curriculum changes for elementary schools that will become K-4 and middle schools that will be 5-8. It is an exciting and challenging process. Updates on the K-4 and 5-8 planning are being shared at meetings of the Curriculum Committee of the Board.
12. What about the social implications of having fifth graders in a school with eighth graders?
The 5-8 middle school model is currently used by the Upper Merion and Tredyffrin/Easttown School Districts and many non-public schools use K-8 models, with all students from those grades in one school. The new middle school leadership and staff will work to ensure a safe and inclusive school community for all students. The design of the new school will allow separate learning communities and the curriculum and activities will differ among the grade levels.
13. In light of all the new multi-family units planned for the community, how does/will the District assign new residential properties to school attendance areas?
District Policy/AR 206-1 “Assignment of Pupils” provides the superintendent the authority to assign new residential communities to attendance areas outside of or different than traditional enrollment boundaries. A new apartment building, for example, could be designated to one or more attendance areas based on available capacity at certain schools.
14. Did the District consider other options before deciding to build the new middle school?
Yes. Other options considered included were combinations of redistricting among schools to meet population demands, opening a kindergarten center, building on to both existing middle schools, and “Neighborhood Stabilization,” which would have meant adding additional classroom space as needed at certain schools in response to population needs. This option is a short-term solution and does not address long-term needs for larger core spaces such as cafeterias, libraries and gyms.
15. What other properties did the District explore before purchasing 1860 Montgomery Avenue?
District representatives met with representatives of Main Line Health and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to discuss purchasing the St. Charles Seminary site. However, the Seminary representatives said that they would need to continue to use the site as a seminary though 2023, which meant building a school there wouldn’t meet the timeline set by the enrollment growth needs. Explorations were also conducted of Ashbridge Park, Stoneleigh, St. Justin’s, the Narberth School and the Kaiserman JCC site. Each of these had issues ranging from zoning to size to community opposition that made them unsuitable.
16. Did the District look for other sites for the playing fields?
The District looked at numerous sites for additional playing field space that ended up not working out. These included properties on Spring Mill Road, which contained protected wetlands; the area of Stoneleigh that’s currently being used for composting, the acquisition of which was blocked; Ashbridge Park, the acquisition of which was also blocked; and other sites that were deemed unsuitable for a variety of reasons, including topography, amount of acreage and distance from the school. Eventually, the District paid $13 million for the contiguous properties at 1800 W. Montgomery Avenue and 1835 County Line Road, which had both been offered for sale by their owners. Since then, the District has invested significant capital in designing the project and going through the land development process, including a successful appeal of the Township’s conditions of approval.
17. How is the District funding the new school and fields?
The District has $15M committed for future capital projects. The District is using a combination of these funds and borrowed funds (via a bond issue) to cover expenses related to construction.
18. What about the trees on the field site?
The District has offered to replace trees that are being disturbed by planting trees on the field site and other District properties, and will be preserving the Class Two historical resource at the field site. It is the position of LMSD that the fields will be a positive addition to the community, especially if they can be opened for wider use by Township residents.
19. How do the School Board and Township Board of Commissioners work together on projects like building a new school?
The LMSD Board of School Directors has convened an intergovernmental group with representatives of Narberth Borough and Lower Merion Township to foster greater dialogue among and between government representatives around important issues facing our community. District concerns about the impact of new development on enrollment growth have been shared during these discussions. Planning decisions made by Lower Merion Township will shape the District’s ability to move forward with any enrollment planning strategy. Consideration and support will be needed from Lower Merion Township and Narberth.