TE School Board Votes to Take Doyle-McDonnell Property via Eminent Domain – But Why Not Incorporate the Property Into Conestoga High School Expansion & Parking Lot Plans?

T/E school board directors voted unanimously to acquire the 13 acres Doyle-McDonnell nursery site through eminent domain at the special meeting last night. Ray Clarke attended the meeting and provided the following notes:

At a well-attended Board meeting last night, the Board authorized the acquisition of the property, including through the exercise of eminent domain. All present supported the acquisition, but there was much discussion of value. It was noted that a fair price would be set through an independent appraisal.

TESD’s appraisal is the $2.125 million noted in the resolution. The TESD solicitor reported that the owner had submitted an appraisal of $2.922 million, and suggested that the difference could be related to consideration of the expense of improvements necessary to prepare the site for development. The owners suggested that a value of $5 million would in fact be appropriate, based it appeared on a concept plan from Toll Brothers for the 85 townhouses. All seemed to agree that such a development was not permitted by right, and variances were unlikely to be granted and that any feasible development would consist of about 15 houses.

It is good to know that the community will not have to fight the deep pockets of Toll Brothers with regard to the possible development of 85 townhouses. I am also glad to hear that the school board, administration and community support the Doyle &McDonnell nursery owners receive fair market price for the property. The $2.125 million value from the District seems low to me for 13 acres – especially given that the owners submitted an appraisal of nearly $3 million. Apparently there is no document that supports the $5 million Toll Brothers offer otherwise the discussion would have included it.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with the District’s eminent domain purchase of the nursery property (assuming fair market price) my concern is related to the planned $40 million Conestoga High School expansion and parking lot project.  I simply do not understand why this additional 13 acre purchase would not warrant a revisit of the overall expansion plans and parking lot.  I recognize that the District has moved forward with the high school and parking lot plans but at the time those plans were designed the Doyle-McDonnell property was not a factor.

Wouldn’t it be better to thoroughly review the current high school expansion plans now, especially in light of the stormwater issues and property impact from the proposed parking lot?  Maybe the addition of the nursery property presents new opportunities for the District’s development plans that were not previously available to the architects.  If the nursery property is not incorporated into the development of the high school expansion plan, what exactly is the District’s plan for the 13 acres? Playing fields?

I recognize that the school board and administration want to move forward with the expansion plans – and who knows, maybe I am in the minority and most of the community shares that same sentiment that the acquisition of the additional 13 acres has no impact on those plans.

From my vantage point, $40 million of taxpayer money warrants a thorough review of the proposed high school expansion and parking lot plan, in light of the District acquiring 13 adjacent acres. Perhaps I am in the minority with my concern.

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21 Comments

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  1. 100% agree with the need for a re-evaluation of the current plans. The district is spending tax payer dollars.

    $40M expansion + millions for nursery and no work or plans have even been developed for new land? How much debt can the district ask taxpayers to fund?

    The district needs to open their thinking to new plans and realize a year or two of modular classrooms is a fair compromise and cost effective option to find solutions to space, parking and traffic concerns that plague the school and the neighbors.

    Community members please attend the November 21 meeting and make your feelings known. It may be your last chance.

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  2. Bravo! Too quick to spend some $40MM without re-evaluation of this new land availability. School Board and Township Committee(s) should take a pause to reconsider and do what’s best for the neighbors with traffic and storm water concerns. Everyone, please attend on November 21st to stand united in this cause!

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  3. The driving force behind the School Boards plan is NOT the parking lot. It’s the stormwater system they must install under the parking lot. The Township has already stated that there is no other place to put it. Bull——you didn’t look.

    The nursery property will be used for the athletic fields that are or will be removed in the future. The running track—under which the stormwater facilities could have been put—will be moved to make space for future building expansion. Additional sports fields will also be added at the nursery. For my money, the Old Lancaster end of the nursery could answer many parking and bus issues.

    Conestoga H.S. is built on old Doyle & McDonnell property. The School Board will hopefully step up to the plate, and make a fair offer—–not the low ball they brought to the table to start the negotiations. The value to the family, the School Board, and most importantly to the citizens of TE is beyond any appraisal number I heard at the meeting.

    Show up at the Zoning Hearing on the 20th and the Planning Commission meeting the next day to demonstrate that the TE citizens are sick of not being involved in school board construction programs in the future. You are spending our tax dollars, and we want to know on what and why!!!!! And we want to be involved up front!!!!!

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  4. Ideally, TESD would incorporate the nursery property into the expansion plans. Unfortunately, time is not on their side. That would not leave enough time to have the renovations complete when the huge middle school classes (current 5th and 8th graders) will be at CHS. This expansion should have been done years ago. They are out of space and the largest graduating class to come to CHS is arriving next year. TESD is in a tough spot!

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  5. Dear Concerned Parent,
    While the LARGE class size is coming up, that should not warrant any quick decisions. Having taught in the neighboring school district, I was assigned to teach in modular classrooms for a few years while plans were developed and a new building was completed. Think long term, not inconvenience. It will be worth it.

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    'Stoga parent Reply:

    Classrooms aren’t the only problem.

    The cafeteria will be too small and nowhere to expand. There is not enough library/common space for kids with downtime and/or study halls.

    If we want to see our vaunted school district start the death cycle, let’s fight this. The kids already complain how crowded Conestoga is and there are only larger classes to come.

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  6. Revisiting the CHS Expansion’s Proposed parking lot and relocating it (from the planned Irish Road location) could allow the School to build a much less expensive flat-land parking lot in another location—thereby eliminating additional stormwater problems, slowing the roll of traffic congestion, and reducing the dangers to kids who live in the neighborhood. Plus—save the 125 plus trees that are slated to be cut down forever! More than 40 of those trees are large Heritage specimens. Taking a timely pause for reassessment in light of the major Doyle/McDonnell developments last week is the smart thing to do. It’s tempting and easy to keep blinders on, and push to “stay the course” but we will all pay a steep price if there is a rush to build that Irish Road parking lot before emerging alternatives are explored. Relocate the parking lot!

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  7. Marjorie W I couldn’t agree more. Cutting down all those trees will be bad for the environment in general, but also increase stormwater runoff – already very bad in our neighborhood.
    The proposed lot with its entrance at the intersection of Irish & Lizbeth will worsen gridlock there and genuinely endanger pedestrians, especially if used for Expansion construction traffic.

    Seems like the smart approach would be to build the lot on the nursery or the former Freshman football practice field off Old State. Freshmen no longer practice there.

    The last chance to make our voices heard is likely at the Township Planning Commission meeting this Thurs, the 21st, 7:00 PM at the Township building.

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  8. Don’t build the parking lot. Teachers/Administrators enjoy perks taxpayers can only dream of.

    Federal workers also enjoy a sweet deal. Here are some of their perks. They make wildly above market compensation. Federal workers receive pay that is 17 percent higher than private sector employees on average performing comparable work. That is on top of putting in 12 percent fewer hours. Furthermore, a Princeton University study found that when “taking differences in employee characteristics into account,” federal workers actually earn 34 percent more than comparable private sector workers.

    Teachers/Administrators make more than 34% more than comparable private sector workers and they complain and continue to demand more and more no matter how much they get. Unsustainable! Stop the Madness.

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  9. Pattye – that was exactly what I thought! Penny wise and pound foolish to proceed with the $40 million expansion when an additional 13 acres is coming available. School board just seems to have the bit in their teeth.

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  10. I agree, Pattye. This is taxpayer money; isn’t our School Board obligated to at least *evaluate* new possibilities?!

    I have a feeling that ambivalent folks don’t read Community Matters, but just in case you’re out there – I urge you to take the time to become familiar with this project – the demography projections that support why it’s needed, the variances and waivers needed by the School District, the notion of eminent domain, and the concerns of the neighbors who will be greatly impacted by the parking lot element. Is this project environmentally responsible, is it financially sustainable, and perhaps most importantly… Are all planned aspects SAFE for students, staff and neighbors??

    I implore you to attend the Planning Commission meeting this Thursday.

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  11. Pattye, I couldn’t agree more with this article. This expansion will change the landscape of TE for generations to come. Is expansion needed= 100% but let’s walk before we run and spend $40 million. The 13 acres changes everything and is exciting for the future of the district, but lets figure out the best way to use it.

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  12. Another huge perk is they can leverage their positions as teacher/Administrator to serve on the School board.

    What private sector worker can sit on the Corporate Board of the Company they work for?

    Why do we have a School Board? Almost half are paid by the School District. The Board simply an extension of the Administration. It is absurd!

    Of course they’re going to get a Parking Lot……and everything else they dream of.

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    Doug Anestad Reply:

    A more accurate statement is that 3 of the board members on the new board are former paid employees of the school district. No sitting board member may be paid by the district they sit on. We now have 2 former T/E teachers on the school board and 1 former T/E administrator on the school board. How many more former T/E teachers and T/E administrators do the Tredyffrin and Easttown Democrats think we need on the board? Are they working towards 5 former T/E teachers and 4 former T/E administrators? The oversight functions of the board were already lax at best before. Now the superintendent and business manager know that they can say and do anything that they want with no consequences. As stated above, it is looking more and more like the board is an extension of the administration.

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    Easttowner Reply:

    Sue Tiede worked side by side Rich Gusick, Art McDonnell and many for years. It was reported that she received a check from the District for over $400.00 in October. It’s ridiculous to believe the bias created by 30 years working side by side people goes away in 3 short weeks. Teacher Kyle Boyer is a very young man. He demonstrates through his allegiance to the Administration through what he says and how he votes that he is 100% committed to supporting teachers and Administrators. Whatever his plans are after his term expires, he needs the support of the Administration to get his job back in TE or a letter of recommendation for employment in another District. If he doesn’t secure employment in Lower Merion, where would he go to get compensation, benefits and gold standard health care that he gets here? And teacher Stacy Stone and Sue Tiede receive very generous retirement benefits from the District that ties their judgement directly to the District.

    I would say Sue, Kyle and Stacy are directly paid by the District. Their futures are completely dependent on it. There is no way they can be objective.

    To your point, Art McDonnell uses made up numbers to raise our taxes every year……and that’s with knowledgeable people watching and calling him on it. The Board blames the Auditor and protects Art, whose reported personal bad habits and behavior are even worse than his alleged fraudulent work practices. And this was without another teacher and Administrstor elected to the Board.

    I agree with you that Rich, Art, Mark, Mike etc. can and will continue to do and say anything they want with no consequences, while students, tax payers and parents will now more than ever be treated like after thoughts and second class citizens.

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  13. The districts failure to plan should not be an emergency for the Planning Commission or tax payers.

    The district has repeatedly failed to forecast facilities needs. Please realize the current $30M expansion is, at best, a band aid. Study the most recent demographics data the School District paid for. With the increase development, another CHS expansion will be needed within the next 5 – 7 years.d

    Modular classrooms and condensed lunch periods are not the end of the world. Many schools have faced MUCH worse. Students will continue to thrive and so will the district ranking. Please look at private schools in the area undertaking building programs (Malvern Prep, Woodlynde School, Shipley a few years ago). All leveraged “less than perfect” situations for a better end product.

    Do you realize if the district spends $30M now, they will be back asking for another $40M in the next few years? Ask to see the data presented at the November 12th facilities meeting. The District will be $70M beyond their Capital Funding Sources by 2024 without another bond raise and WITHOUT construction on the nursery site. Does this make sense?

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    Pattye Reply:

    Thanks for your comment. Just to clarify, the District’s high school expansion plan is $40 million (not $30 million) and the eminent domain purchase of the 13 acre nursery site is $2-$3 million.

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