The saga of the tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School continues. On April 2, representatives from the School Board, Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, staff and the District’s architect held a public meeting to discuss the fate of the two tennis courts at Valley Forge Elementary School.
Although there was support to save the tennis courts from those residents in attendance, no decision was made at the meeting. The tennis courts are on the Facilities Committee agenda for tomorrow (Friday), 2 PM at the TESD Administration Building. Also included in the agenda packet is the site map for the parking lot expansion and aerial view of the courts.
I remain confused as to why the District wants to demolish the tennis courts. From a logical standpoint, some of the arguments simply do not make sense to me.
- The tennis courts are not located adjacent to the parking lot and their location does not affect the parking lot expansion plans. To add the 24 parking spaces does not require the demolition of the 2 tennis courts.
- There has been much back and forth between the School District business manager Art McDonnell and the Township Manager Bill Martin and Township Engineer Steve Burgo in regards to “trading” impervious surface requirement of the parking lot expansion by demolishing the courts. McDonnell claims that there was a prior agreement with former Township Manager Mimi Gleason in regards to this arrangement; Martin and Burgo claim otherwise.
- In an email to Bill Martin and Art McDonnell (cc Phil Donohue) dated March 20, Burgo states the following:
Township staff including the previous Manager (Ms. Gleason), Engineer (Mr. Burgo), and (Mrs. McPherson), attended meetings with Art McDonnell and TESD consultant staff on these Tennis Courts more than a year ago. In those meetings, the TESD discussed their plans to add a new parking lot at the VFES in the future. I want to be clear that the TESD and their consultants originally asked if they could swap the impervious, but were told by the Township that they couldn’t. Stormwater Management controls are required by the Township Stormwater Ordinance, for all new impervious being constructed onsite. There is no credit or swap if the courts are removed from a stormwater management standpoint, only from a zoning standpoint.
- On behalf of the District, Art McDonnell has publicly maintained that there was a ‘deal’ in regards to the impervious surface requirement. Yet as evidenced by Burgo’s email, the township has denied any such deal existed. Further, to the point, such a deal would be illegal as the stormwater ordinance makes no provision for such a credit. Therefore, we can only conclude that the School District represented by the business manager Art McDonnell has been less than truthful as to their rationale for demolishing the tennis courts.
- The construction of the additional parking spaces will require a zoning variance. According to VFES neighbor Matt Morgan, township officials indicated at the April 2 Facilities Committee meeting that they would expedite the process and probably waive the associated fees (if asked).
Besides the impervious surface debate, another rationale for the removal of the tennis courts from the District was their cost to maintain. I have had a number of residents tell me that courts are in excellent condition – although I don’t claim any expertise on tennis courts, the 2 courts at VFES looked in good shape to me.
Another neighbor to the tennis courts, Don Detweiler, has been providing routine maintenance for a number of years. Neither the School District nor the township has expended any dollars on the courts. In an April 1 TE Patch article , local resident Jeff Sacks, a tennis coach, is quoted as offering to pay the maintenance cost. According to Matt Morgan, a local Davis Cup tennis player who lives in the neighborhood and uses the courts, has offered to hold tennis clinics for children and donate the proceeds to maintain the courts.
Beyond the ‘he said, she said’ aspects of this story, that has me shaking my head is the notion that the tennis courts are going to cost money unless they are demolished. According to the District, the cost to seek a variance from the township’s Zoning Hearing Board will be $12K – $14K; $2K in fees and the remainder in architectural fees. However, the supervisors stated at the April 2 public meeting that they would probably waive the fees if asked. And there would not be need for additional architectural services or drawings — the District could apply for a variance based on the current drawings.
Why is there such a rush to take down the tennis courts? Why is the building of the 24 parking spaces contingent on the removal of the courts? It has been verified that there was no such ‘deal’ exists to swap the tennis courts for impervious coverage requirement. There should be a better reason to remove the tennis courts other than the courts are on District property and they School Board has the right to do what they want. It’s true the courts are on District property but the District property is owned by the residents.
Tomorrow is the Facilities Committee meeting. Representing the School Board on Facilities is Pete Motel, Jim Bruce and Liz Mercogliano. According to a April 2 article in the Main Line Media News, Mercogliano is siding with the residents and supports keeping the tennis courts. From the article —
“There is no legitimate reason based on impervious surface, stormwater management, safety (or) sink holes to remove the court,” Mercogliano said in an e-mail. “The parking can be built in same area with no issue as there is more land space.
“The community deserves their right to be heard and look into other means of raising funds for maintenance and possible takeover of the court through the Parks and Recreation board or a similar foundation to raise funds. I am supporting a delay to allow the opportunity for the taxpayer to seek an alternative method to save the courts for the kids.
There will be a recommendation from the Facilities Committee tomorrow. If you are unable to attend the 2 PM meeting, you could send an email to the Board at: firstname.lastname@example.org or to individual Board members. However, I emailed the School Board president Kevin Buraks 8 days ago (in regards to the tennis courts) and to date, have received no response or acknowledgement to my inquiry.