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Gladwyne Elementary Getting 4 Modular Classrooms in 2013-14

The school board voted Monday night to advance a cheaper expansion plan for the district's largest K-5 enrollment.

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.

Eric Campbell December 18, 2012 at 04:40 PM
Quoting Dr. McGinley on the vote: "We need a commitment to have modulars in place for September. It does not commit the board to building a one-story addition."
Wynnewoodie December 18, 2012 at 05:46 PM
Here's what was approved: RECOMMENDED ACTION - The Superintendent recommends that the Board of School Directors authorize the Administration to submit an application for land development approval in accordance with the description set forth below and the attached drawings. All they did was agree to file a land development plan. They needed to do this so that the plan had a chance to be considered by the township, and for modular classrooms to be purchased and built in time for classes in September, but that vote does not guarantee that the township will approve the school board's land development application or that the school board will ultimately agree to buy modular classrooms or hire contractors to build them. All of those items remain to be voted upon, and the public can (and should!) express their opinion about this very short-sighted construction plan at every opportunity.
Regina Brown December 19, 2012 at 12:38 PM
I agree with Winwoodie, the headline is misleading. Also the use of the word 'cheaper' has more negative connotations - lower quality being one - than other terms such as 'fiscally conservative' or even 'lower cost'. It's putting a 'spin' on the story that is inappropriate and, frankly, incorrect. There is nothing cheap about what is being proposed here, the tax connotations alone involve an average bill increase of over $300 per resident (ref: FAQ's the District proposed). Also, there are consequences to ground level expansion at Gladwyne ES - namely, the loss of athletic field space, something that the Board was concerned about, particularly Director Diane DiBonaventuro. Disappointing, irresponsible and amateurish reporting from the Patch.
Regina Brown December 19, 2012 at 12:49 PM
From the District FAQ: "29. How will the projects impact my tax rate? A. Based on current projections, the construction and additional operating expenditures would require an average tax increase of 1.3% per year over the next five years. For the median assessed home ($250,000), the total tax bill would increase from $5,871.03 in the 2012-13 school year to $6,206.04 in the 2017-18 school year – an increase of $335.01. The tax impact related to debt service for construction accounts for approximately $18 per year." http://www.lmsd.org/sections/enrollment/default.php?t=pages&p=enrollment_faqs How is that "Cheap", Eric? Especially in light of the tax increases of the past six years which have gone up exponentially to pay for renovations and improvements to the ES and MS and the building of two brand new high school buildings? What really happened: At the insistence of the Board, LMSD managed to figure out a way to build classrooms for $700,000 per room vs. $1.2 M per room. Had the Board and concerned residents not asked for this, they would not have 'found' this way to use tax dollars more effectively - and even then, that's, what, $35,000 per seat (assuming 20 seats per classroom)? One wonders what other savings they can 'find' when required to do so? But not cheap, none of this is cheap. Just glad we have a Board that will ask real questions and demand better solutions, and residents willing to engage.
Eric Campbell December 19, 2012 at 04:07 PM
I didn't say "cheap," I said "cheaper." A relative distinction when we're talking about millions, sure, but empirically correct, in my opinion. If $2.70 is cheaper than $5.80, then $2.7 million is cheaper than $5.8 million. If you consider the word "cheaper" pejorative or charged, that's certainly fair and understandable; I just didn't look at it that way.

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