the north face jeppeson Charles Seminary for possible new middle school
Monday night, the Lower Merion Board of School Directors approved two contracts that could eventually lead to the construction of a school on the site of the historic seminary.
The first contact was with its architectural consulting firm, Gilbert Architects, for $51,000 to conduct a feasibility study for a fifth to eighth grade middle school on the site. The new school would be for 1,100 to 1,200 students and it must be able to provide the same educational programs that are found at the other schools in the district. The district’s staff is estimating the proposed school would have about 150 employees.
In the contract, the district is also asking Gilbert Architects to look at playing fields that would be appropriate for a middle school. These fields would include an artificial track with a football field inside, baseball and softball fields, two rectangular multi purpose fields for soccer, lacrosse and field hockey and a site for three or four tennis courts.
Another portion of the work to be done by Gilbert would be to evaluate the existing buildings on the site for possible renovation.
The second contract approved Monday night was for $12,000 to Frank Tavani and Associates to analyze morning and afternoon traffic at six locations.
The school district has been considering options to either expand existing schools or build a new school. Although the seminary site has come up before discussions for a new school, it was rejected after pushback from the Archdiocese.
A call Tuesday to the Philadelphia Archdiocese seeking comment was not immediately returned.
The issue of the past opposition from the Archdiocese led to resident Gerry Senker asking if the district has had any conversations with the archdiocese about the seminary site.
Superintendent Robert Copeland said the district’s attorney has been in contact with St. Charles and they are currently making arrangements for their consultants to get on the site.
Among other issues the district has to work out, if it were to construct a school on the site of St. Charles Seminary, is the cost.
According to Copeland,
one part of the site is selling for $29 million and another section is selling for about $15 million.
Although the St. Charles site is the latest to undergo the new school microscope for Lower Merion, the district has looked at building a new school at other sites including the Islamic Foundation in Villanova.
District officials has said the site has problems with steep slopes. Lower Merion Township is also working on providing protective status to the historic home on the property to keep it from being demolished.
Among the other options Lower Merion has been considering is expanding Penn Wynne Elementary School, a move that many residents in Penn Wynne have opposed.
Lauren Fenning of Penn Wynne said there has been a recent Facebook thread where Penn Wynne parents have been talking about how the fifth graders at Penn Wynne Elementary School are having what she called a “lost year” due to the overcrowding at the school. She said parents are not able to come out to events due to the space and lack of parking.
“They have not raised enough money for kids to come to events and the number one reason people are listing is there is not enough room and there is no parking,” she said.
According to Fenning, there is also no sense of community at the school. She added that it’s difficult to speak with teachers, there have been behavior issues at the school and kids have to shove their food down fast because there is not enough time to eat.
“So I do want to thank you for looking at the Islamic Center and now the seminary I appreciate that,” Fenning said.
Ben Meyer, also of Penn Wynne, gave his support for a new school in the district rather than adding on to Penn Wynne.
“Thank you for investigating at St. Charles, I don’t know what that will bring but it’s great you are asking questions. I think a third middle school has a lot of potential to help the kids,” Meyer said.
He went on to say that he and others looked at the Islamic Foundation site and although the district has said getting a school and fields there would be hard due to its size, he thinks it could be done.
Adrian Seltzer asked about a full day kindergarten center on the St. Charles site.
According to Copeland, the district has considered the kindergarten center in the past. One of the problems he cited was that it would create the need for a new level of busing for the district.
With the possibly of moving grades around for a possible school of 5th to 8th grade, another resident asked about the status of the Montgomery Early Learning Center and whether it would still be available for fifth graders.
Copeland said in response that would be something they would have to consider.
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