The next generation of Lower Merion School District building expansions started small Monday night, as school board members unanimously endorsed the administration's pursuit of a Gladwyne Elementary renovation that will mean, at least, four new modular classrooms on campus next fall.
The administration has for months set forth a more ambitious plan to expand no fewer than four of the district's 10 schools, at a cost approaching $30 million. The reason: an enrollment study that shows larger classes over the past couple years and a projection of continued growth, particularly in the Gladwyne and Penn Valley Elementary catchment areas.
However, some residents and board members have balked at the scope and cost of that plan, in some cases questioning the accuracy of enrollment projections. Three residents addressed the board Monday night, too, in all cases advocating a conservative approach to expansion.
The administration's revised strategy at Monday's board meeting began with a plan to address the crowding considered most urgent: Gladwyne Elementary's. That component of the plan is now pitched at $2.7 million, down from $5.9 million as officials found a way to build at ground level (cheaper than a second-story addition) without creating more impervious surface than stormwater-drainage regulations allow.
The board's action Monday night gave the administration clearance to pursue a land-development plan with Lower Merion Township's government. The four modular classrooms are a must, Superintendent Chris McGinley said, but the district is not yet obligated to build the four permanent classrooms that make up the rest of the renovation plan.
The administration is also advancing a more conservative Welsh Valley Middle expansion of 12 classrooms, rather than 16, at a savings of about $2 million. The board took no action Monday on the proposed expansions at Penn Valley, Welsh Valley or Bala Cynwyd Middle, but there are three board meetings in January for more discussion of those, McGinley said.
Administration officials acknowledged the need to carefully plan security measures for the detached modular classrooms, which would be set closer to Righters Mill Road than the main building.
Mourning for Connecticut
School security concerns could hardly be felt more keenly nationwide than they are now, in the wake of Friday's horrific school-shooting tragedy in Newtown, CT.
Monday's meeting began with a moment of silence for those victims.
"Our school district community wants the Newtown community to know that we stand with them, in their horror and in their grief," board president Melissa Gilbert said.
McGinley said Monday was a difficult school day for staff and students alike.
"I know, school for school, there were a lot of tears this morning," said the superintendent, "and uncertainty about the level of knowledge our students had, and the level of anxiety they had, and how we were going to support them."
Teachers and students reviewed safety protocols on Monday, and McGinley said district administrator George Frazier will lead a school safety task force, to meet beginning in January and to brainstorm recommendations to give the board in the spring.
Information on how to provide public input to the task force will soon be available at lmsd.org, Frazier said.
Said McGinley, "I think we do a really good job with school security, but it doesn't mean we couldn't do a better job or that there aren't good ideas elsewhere we can use."
In other business Monday night, the board unanimously voted to reappoint McGinley as superintendent, for a five-year stint beginning in July 2013.