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.