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Update Regarding Property Acquisition

The Lower Merion School District is continuing to explore a variety of options in its ongoing effort to meet the challenges posed by increasing enrollment.

On Monday, April 16, 2018, at the Lower Merion School District's Regular Business Board meeting, Kenneth Roos, Solicitor for the District, announced that the District transmitted non-binding letters of intent to purchase four properties as potential sites to house a new 5-8 middle school or fields for the District. These properties are:

  • The Friends Central Lower School site at 228 Old Gulph Rd. in Wynnewood
  • The Islamic Foundation site at 1860 Montgomery Ave. in Villanova
  • Stoneleigh, the Haas Estate, site at 1829 County Line Rd. in Villanova – 6.9-acre parcel (the Conditional Use Approval granted by Lower Merion Township for this site included area on this property – not part of the public gardens – that was set aside by the Haas Estate and Natural Lands Trust for future development).
  • The St. Charles Seminary site on City Ave. in Wynnewood – Lower 40-acre campus

Since that announcement, the following developments have occurred:

  • The Friends Central School has notified its stakeholders that it is not interested in selling its property to the District
    • Eminent Domain cannot be used by the District on a property that already houses an educational institution.
  • The Lower Merion Historical Commission recommended designating certain buildings on the Islamic Foundation/1860 Montgomery Avenue site as "Class 1" buildings. That would mean demolishing the buildings would be virtually impossible. If the buildings cannot be torn down, it would be completely impractical and cost-prohibitive to build a middle school to meet the District's needs on that site. At its meeting on May 9, the Township Planning Commission tabled that recommendation until its June 13 meeting.
    • Note: The historical designation recommendation was not made until after the Superintendent announced at a School Board meeting that the Islamic Foundation/1860 Montgomery site could be useable in conjunction with field space at Stoneleigh. Prior to that, the Administration had determined the property could not accommodate both a school and necessary fields.
  • After months of trying to talk with the Archdiocese about the St. Charles property, without receiving a reply, the District is now hoping the Township can arrange a meeting to discuss this property.
    • Note: The Lower Merion Historical Commission is also recommending designating buildings on the St. Charles Seminary site as a "Class 1" building.
  • Due to a need for additional field space, Superintendent Copeland has stated that the District would like to pursue the 6.9 developable acres of Stoneleigh no matter whether or where a new middle school site is acquired. The District is hopeful an amicable accommodation can be reached.
  • As part of their continuing due diligence, and especially now in light of the possibility of the Class 1 designations on two of the potential sites, District representatives in April requested a walk-through of the entire Stoneleigh property for May 18, 2018.

Background:

LMSD is now the fastest-growing District in Pennsylvania by total number of students over the past eight years and enrollment could surpass 9,500 students in the next ten years. Across the District, multiple schools are at or nearing capacity and need additional classroom space to accommodate students. (For more information on increasing enrollment, click here).

The Board and Administration have been studying various options that would enable the District to continue to provide a high-quality education. These options have included Neighborhood Stabilization, which would mean taking steps such as adding modular classrooms or new construction at existing school sites, as population needs warrant in those schools' catchments, or – another option - building a new Grade 5-8 middle school, which would alleviate over-crowding at the six elementary schools and two existing middle schools. The Administration has stated that a new middle school is their preferred option.

Community opposition to Neighborhood Stabilization has been strong, as parents worry larger schools will have over-crowded core spaces, such as cafeterias and gyms, and that their children will get "lost in the crowd," among other concerns. Numerous parents and community members spoke at a recent school board meeting against the Neighborhood Stabilization concept. However, if a new school site cannot be found, it could be the only remaining option.

The challenge to building a new middle school has been finding a site, in a township with little undeveloped land available. A proposal to turn an existing park (Ashbridge) into a middle school campus (a building and/or fields), was met with strong resistance by the community around that park.

Amy Buckman
Director of School and Community Relations
Lower Merion School District

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