No decisions about Lower Merion School District's $24 to $30 million school expansion project were made Monday night, but school board members heard additional options and cost estimates for permanent and temporary solutions to growing student enrollment at four district schools.
"We're getting to the point where we're going to ask that some decisions be made soon," Superintendent Christopher McGinley told the board.
District officials have targeted the school board's next meeting on Jan. 28 for voting on plans for permanent additions at Gladwyne and Penn Valley Elementary schools, interior and exterior modifications at Bala Cynwyd Middle School, as well as permanent modifications and temporary overcrowding solutions at Welsh Valley Middle School.
Here's a brief synopsis of what's new since the board met in December.
Cost estimates: The proposed cost for renovations to the four district schools is now $24,844,934. See the attached screenshot for a breakdown of the costs.
Capacity estimates: The district developed a new method of calculating student capacity that better reflects actual programming capacity.
The estimates involved looking at where programs were housed in each school and if they were in less than optimal space over the long term. District administration “made judgement calls” about which spaces were adequately sized and which programs needed more space, particularly with learning support, occupational and physical therapy and other one-on-one programs.
McGinley provided the example of Belmont Hills Elementary School, where the original capacity number presented to the board made it appear as though there was abundant open space in the school. Taking into account the fact that learning support space at Belmont Hills is undersized and needs to expand, “there’s no way we could welcome the number of kids … the school capacity number [suggests],” McGinley said.
Belmont Hills' capacity (or "maximum utilization" for the space) is 526 students—but taking into account three additional classrooms needed for current programs and services, the instructional program capacity is truly at 451 students, the new estimate suggests.
Alternate Welsh Valley plan: An alternate plan was presented for a permanent Welsh Valley addition, which would add classrooms in a centrally located spot on campus—abutting the gym—rather than at the base of the campus. (Check back later on Monday for a sketch of the alternative classroom locations.)
Renovating the DAO: The cost for renovating the District Administrative Office (DAO) for eventual use by Lower Merion High School is estimated at $2,662,397. That estimate includes new HVAC, ceiling modifications, marker/tack boards, projection screens and window treatments.
Redistricting: Moving elementary school boundaries so overflow students would attend less crowded schools like Penn Wynne Elementary is not something McGinley would suggest, he said.
“I don’t see a way to avoid adding elementary school classrooms even if there was redistricting," he said. While there are two empty classrooms at Penn Wynne Elementary right now, the school is also about 30 students above where enrollment projections predicted its student population would be this year, McGinley said. Plus, “It’s two rooms—not eight."
Temporary Welsh Valley solutions: The new estimate for costs to renovate St. Justin the Martyr Church is $699,000 to $769,000. Were temporary modular classrooms to be used instead, they wouldn’t be available until at least the beginning of October 2013, LMSD Director of Operations Pat Guinnane said, meaning students would need to change classrooms partially through the year. The estimated cost for renting the modular units is $443,741.
Permanent modular classrooms: McGinley said he felt permanent modular classrooms at the elementary schools “would be a strong impediment to the program”—students would need escorting to and from class, and with students leaving for music lessons or individual programs, additional staff would be needed. McGinley said he wouldn’t recommend it as a long term solution.
The next regular business meeting of the Lower Merion Board of School Directors is set for 8 p.m. on Jan. 28 in the DAO's first floor board room (301 E Montgomery Ave., Ardmore).