Acting Superintendent Provides Bus Parking Update

"While options are limited, we remain open to creative ideas and solutions and we will continue to explore and review potential properties. We welcome community cooperation and partnership in this effort," Wagner Marseille writes.

(Patch file photo)
(Patch file photo)
The following letter was sent by Acting Superintendent Dr. Wagner Marseille to Lower Merion School District residents:

Dear LMSD Community,

I hope your summer is off to a terrific start and that you've had an opportunity to enjoy the beautiful weather.

As you may know, the District's search for additional bus parking has intensified in recent months. This topic has been addressed by some community groups and I wanted to clarify where we are in the search for additional parking spaces.

The need for additional bus parking is a result of continuing and projected enrollment growth in our schools. The most recent enrollment studies, conducted by external consultants, indicate that the student population will continue to increase through the 2021-22 school year. Actual enrollment has been at or above projected levels for the past three years.

This continuing increase of students into our District has an impact at all school levels and has led to recent school expansion projects at the elementary schools (Penn Valley/Gladwyne) and at both middle schools (Bala Cynwyd/Welsh Valley). Also, as discussed last year, in order to accommodate the anticipated growth to the high school level and to avoid the cost of a high school addition, the District will re-purpose empty classrooms in the District administration building (formerly part of Lower Merion High School) for classroom use once again. These renovations will be completed by 2017-18.

A comprehensive traffic study was conducted last October to explore the impact of enrollment growth at LMHS. The study indicated that parking will be adequate, but tight, at LMHS for 2015-16. However, buses will need to be removed from the LMHS campus during the summer of 2016 to make room for additional staff, student and visitor parking as required by Lower Merion Township regulations. The traffic study indicates a continuing parking deficit due to the increased enrollment at the high school level after 2015-16.

In short -- unless we choose to reduce or eliminate bus service, we need to find a place to park approximately 30 buses in time for the 2016-17 school year.

As a resident you are probably well-aware of the District's ongoing -- and challenging -- search for bus parking. Several years ago, the District purchased commercial property on Matsonford Road to house the bulk of its fleet and maintenance facilities. With enrollments increasing and a pressing need for additional bus parking due to the potential loss of bus and driver space at LMHS, efforts have been heightened to find a suitable locations. The District has been working with a real estate broker since last summer and has review numerous properties. Due to a variety of issues -- from zoning to logistics to operating costs, these properties have not been viable.

To address these constraints, Township officials have recently advised us to focus our attention squarely on commercial property for bus parking. Suitable commercial properties are hard to come by in Lower Merion Township; we have been looking for years. In May, our broker made us aware of commercial properties on Bala Avenue. In additional to favorable zoning, the properties are located in the eastern section of the township, where the majority of students reside. As a result, the District drafted offers to enter into Letters of Intent to indicate strong interest in these properties and immediately notified Township, elected officials, and community leaders of this interest. Though we had no signed agreement, and had taken no additional steps to acquire the properties, our interest caused a great deal of concern among neighbors in Bala Cynwyd. Community members shared these concerns with District staff members at a neighborhood meeting and have provided additional, important feedback to us via email, including suggestions for other properties to consider inside and outside of the District. It is also important for me to note/clarify that the District currently does not hold any options to purchase any property and there are no other properties under Letter of Intent, agreement of otherwise.

Moving forward, we are seeking to work directly with Township commissioners and staff to find the best, most cost-effective parking solution for our community. School Board President, Melissa Gilbert, has invited Township commissioners and Narbeth council to send a delegation to discuss options. While options are limited, we remain open to creative ideas and solutions and we will continue to explore and review potential properties. We welcome community cooperation and partnership in this effort.

As always, public dialogue is an essential part of this process. It is important to keep all members of the community informed and since the Board of School Directors can only engage in deliberation at public Board meetings, we plan to present additional information on bus parking at the July Regular Business Board Meeting. I invite the community to this public meeting on July 21, 2014 at 8:00 PM in the Administration Building's Board Room. The meeting will include a comprehensive presentation about the current situation and an opportunity for public feedback.

Thank you for your interest and consideration. Additional information about this topic will be posted on our website in the coming weeks and months.

Wagner Marseille, Ed.D.
Acting Superintendent


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