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Lower Merion School District

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FAQs

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. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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. It is anticipated that the new school will start with grades 5 and 6 in 2022-2023, increase to grades 5-7 in 2023-2024 and reach full capacity in 2024-2025.

5. 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.

6. Won’t that mean long bus rides for PWES students?

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.

7. 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.

8. How will the new grade configurations effect curricular programming?

Dr. Eveslage, the assistant superintendent, is working with academic leadership teams from all of the existing elementary and middle schools 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. There will be opportunities for families to provide input.

9. What about the social implications of having 5th graders in a school with 8th graders?

The 5-8 middle school model is currently used by the Upper Merion and Tredyffrin/Eston School Districts and many non-public schools use K-8 models. 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. 

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. How does the District plan to fund the new school and fields? Would voter referendum be necessary to move forward with funding?

The District has $15M committed for future capital projects. The District could utilize a combination of these funds and borrowed funds (via a bond issue) to cover expenses related to construction.

13. What other properties did the District explore before purchasing 1860 Montgomery Avenue and acquiring the field space sites through eminent domain?

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.

14. 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.