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Gladwyne Residents Press for Reasons Behind School-Expansion Plan

Administrators are recommending more than $29 million in renovations to four schools.

Lower Merion school administrators who visited the Gladwyne Civic Association Tuesday night heard skepticism about the population-growth projections that prompted their proposal for $29 million in school expansions.

About 35 people came to Gladwyne Elementary School's auditorium to hear from LMSD Superintendent Chris McGinley, Gladwyne Principal Jim Johnson and other school officials, who will also visit several other neighborhoods in the next two months.

The administrators explained that the past several years of growing enrollment, as well as projections for the next 10 years, convinced them they need to add classrooms to four of the district's 10 schools: Gladwyne and Penn Valley elementary schools, and both middle schools, Bala Cynwyd and Welsh Valley. (Read past Patch coverage of the district's plans, including enrollment projections.)

Johnson told residents that Gladwyne has grown from 540 students to 677 in his five years there. With that trend and others, McGinley said, "we became convinced we were not looking at a little blip."

Officials have already repurposed rooms (particularly computer labs) in several buildings to accommodate more classes, but those opportunities are dwindling, McGinley said. Statistics indicate that a growing number of homes in the west end of the township are being bought by families with school-age children; said McGinley, "We've had population growth in areas where there were no houses built."

Several residents said they found that hard to believe; One man derided the district's "demographic assumptions, while another woman said that large expenses such as the current proposal are actually driving tax-weary residents out of the township. She suggested the district eliminate some or all of the building expansions in favor of temporary modular classrooms.

Though some modular classrooms figure in the current plans, McGinley said he was loath to rely on them more because the investment eventually vanishes.

The plan at Gladwyne is to build four classrooms on top of four existing ground-floor rooms, a process that would require the whole wing to close in favor of modular classrooms during construction.

Gladwyne's proposed price tag is about $5.9 million, compared to $18.2 million for Welsh Valley, $2 million for Bala Cynwyd and $3.2 million for Penn Valley.

The project would boost the annual tax bill for a house assessed at the township's median value of $250,000; a bill that this year costs a median homeowner $5,871 would rise to $6,206 five years from now, a $335 increase, said director of operations Pat Guinnane.

Other residents sought assurance that students in the next few years would have enough room in common areas such as cafeterias and gymnasiums. McGinley said architects have taken those spaces into account.

The next possible action by the school board is at the Dec. 10 meeting, which starts at 8 p.m. Officials are hoping to hold community information sessions through January, then hire crews and begin construction in the fall.

What's your take on the school renovation plans? Are you looking for explanation of some of the details? Tell us in the comments section below.

Carrie Sutor November 29, 2012 at 01:15 PM
I live in Bryn Mawr, own a business in Gladwyne and have 3 children at Gladwyne Elementary. The school is clearly too small to accommodate the student population adequately. I am entirely in favor of expansion.
Jim Speer November 29, 2012 at 03:02 PM
I'd think twice about expanding Penn Valley and Gladwyne elementary schools. Those are the two most isolated, least accessible schools, and both truck in students from far flung areas of the school district. I say let's not repeat the mistake of building big schools out in the middle of nowhere, like Harriton HS, because once a big school exists then the challenge for the future is how to fill it. And it's very likely going to continue to be places like south Ardmore who are tapped to bus the long distances and attend the faraway schools. Better to refocus on providing school capacity where the students live. School proximity is in short supply in the district, and is also universally beloved.
Edward Tobin November 29, 2012 at 04:04 PM
I agree with Jim Speer especially with the price of fossil fuels rising it would mean more busing and more fuel cost. If the renovations are proposed, it would also be wise to consider solar and wind energy to save tax payers dollars and the environment. I went to Penn Valley when it was first opened and was my favorite school.
Charles Scott November 29, 2012 at 04:58 PM
LMSD has six elementary schools, not two. While Penn Valley is overenrolled and Gladwyne will be soon, Belmont Hills is chronically under-enrolled. In fact, there is enough excess capacity at Belmont Hills to deal with all of the projected over-enrollment at PV & GES combined. Why are we even considering building new Elementary School classrooms when we already have more capacity than we need?
Kris Prendergast November 29, 2012 at 08:59 PM
I am a parent of a child at Penn Valley Elementary.It is apparent that our schools are bursting at the seams and something must be done to address the issue. My first reaction was to support the district's proposal, but as I attended meetings and read the documents published on the district's web site, I became concerned that alternatives to building were not adequately vetted. We may well have to build, but alternatives deserve thoughtful consideration, not the least of which is whether both Gladwyne and Penn Valley are the logical places to expand elementary school capacity.

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