Tennis Courts Removal

The fate of Valley Forge Elementary School Tennis Courts remains an open issue

Tuesday night members of the TE School Board and TESD staff, Tredyffrin Township supervisors and staff met with residents to discuss the fate of the two tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School.

The courts are on District property and by a 1974 agreement were built and maintained by Tredyffrin Township and Parks and Recreation Board (click here for agreement).  The agreement allowed for termination, “if at any time the school district determines that the grounds selected for the construction and maintenance of the tennis courts are required for school building purposes.” By a letter dated May 31, 2012 from TESD business manager Art McDonnell to the township, the agreement was terminated because the “District has now determined that the grounds are required for school building purposes.  Specifically, the grounds will be used to add a parking area to the Valley Forge Elementary School.” (click here for McDonnell letter).

This is confusing because the tennis courts are behind the school and the parking area and the construction of the additional 24 parking spaces is in the front of the building.  Leading up to Tuesday’s meeting, there has been much debate centering around whether the removal of the tennis courts would alleviate stormwater and impervious surface requirements of the parking lot expansion.

Although the current township manager Bill Martin and township engineer Steve Burgo state that there was no ‘deal’ that the school district could trade stormwater requirements for the parking lot by removal of the tennis courts, the District has a different viewpoint. According to their presentation at the meeting, former township manager Mimi Gleason met with Tom Daley, the District architect and Art McDonnell, on May 3, 2012 to review the concept of trading the paving in parking lot for the tennis courts and that the concept was approved. McDonnell presents the meeting information and verbal approval from Gleason to the District Facilities Committee on May 11.  At that meeting Daley presented layout options and the preliminary budget was set at $230K.  It was at this point that McDonnell sent the letter to the township on May 31 (referenced above).

After testimony from many neighbors in support of the tennis courts, where does the project stand?  According to the District, JMC Contractors was awarded the contract for the project – their bid $224,743.  The cost to remove the tennis courts is $24K.

According to the District architect, Tom Daley, the costs for additional stormwater mitigation could be $1 Million without a variance if the tennis courts remain.  I have a hard time believing that the cost could be so high.

It was suggested that if the District could go to the Zoning Hearing Board and seek a variance, but it is unclear to me on what grounds the approval could be granted.  For Zoning Hearing Board, it is my understanding that the District could bring the current drawings/plans without needing the expense of legal or architectural representation at the meeting – a savings of $10-12K.  It is also suggested that application fee of $2K could be waived by the Board of Supervisors. If the District wants to seek a variance, they will need to notify the township by Monday.  (There’s a legal requirement to notify publicly advertise two weeks in advance of ZHB meeting) Board member and District Facilities Committee member Betsy Fadem has stated that she wants this matter resolved by May 1.  The next Facilities Committee meeting is April 12 at 2 PM where the tennis court discussion will continue.

I’m not sure what is magical about May 1, except that the District has a time schedule for getting the parking lot construction done during the summer months when school is closed.

The District has a signed agreement with a contractor, so I am not sure how this is going to play out.  Will public pressure cause the District to backtrack and reverse course and save the tennis courts?  What are the implications if the District seeks a variance from the Zoning Hearing Board?  Although the suggestion is that getting a variance would not be challenging to the District, I was under the impression that there are specific guidelines under which variances are granted, such as economic hardship.

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