Pattye Benson

Community Matters

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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  1. Thanks John. In reading your comment, I understand that there is no grounds for the District to apply to the ZHB for a variance. What I don’t understand is why can’t the District separate the tennis court removal from the parking lot expansion. Why does one the parking lot require the removal of the tennis court. The timeline that the District provided indicated that Mimi Gleason gave an OK to ‘trade’ the tennis court removal for relief from impervious surface requirement. However, I don’t see anything in writing to substantiate that claim and the township engineer Steve Burgo is stating that the stormwater requirement must be met whether the courts go or stay. If there’s no way for the District to get a variance from ZHB, in your opinion is there anything that can be done to save the courts? As for the arbitrary May 1 deadline — you are right, there will not be sufficient time to apply for a variance. But if as you say, they can’t meet the requirement for a variance, why should they bother with that process?

  2. “political football” indeed. BOS candidate Laurie Elliott (D) and School Board candidate Scott Dorsey (D) spoke at Tuesday’s meeting in favor of keeping the tennis courts. This tennis court situation must be causing internal strife with the TTDEMS with fellow Democrat, School Board president Kevin Buraks a candidate for reelection. With Dorsey and Buraks running for the School Board, how do they ‘square’ things in regards to the tennis courts — both are Democratic school board candidates and they are on opposite sides of the issue. Based on some of the choices that Buraks has made this year as president of the school board, the Democratic school board and supervisor candidates are going to have make some hard decisions this campaign.

    How do the other Democratic candidates campaign as ‘TTDEM team players’ yet independent of Buraks and his decisions of late (hiring of Andy Chambers, administrator bonuses in the consent agenda, possibility of outsourcing, tennis court removal, etc.)

  3. its interesting how things get whipped up, then those doing the whipping say, boy how things got whipped up.

    Sorry for the few who benefitted from the courts. Looks like our government made its decision.
    What else is in the hopper????

    1. How about $50,000 for a Teamer Field Sound System Upgrade..out for bid with NO public discussion
      Don’t forget the Capital Plan… it still shows new maintenance & storage buildings on Old Lancaster Rd ..estimated cost 2.7 million and if you count the 5 properties TESD bought & destroyed add another 1.5 million to the total ..Facilities runs out of money 2015 so we’ll be looking at another bond …

      1. what was the story, CHV with the music department upgrade a couple years ago? Was that a no public discussion? I don’t mean to be obnoxious, but what do you mean by no public discussion? No mention of bidding at a school board meeting? I know the BOS mentions bids all the time. Hey at least it wasn’t a no bid upgrade, or was it???

        1. To clarify ..this was a going to be 2009 Summer Project that was removed from the list due to budget restraints. Suddenly 4years later I see the notice in the paper for bids . Have attended almost every Faciliites meeting, and never heard a thing about it. Not on the Infrastructure Report. or on the 2013 Summer list. So I asked and found out that the estimated cost is i$50,000 and now its a general fund project which is not discussed pubically.

      2. CHV,

        Remember Facilities took $10.387 MM out of Fund Balance last year and dedicated it to a Capital Projects Fund. Their current plan had them running out of funds before they could go out for Bond Funding. Not exactly sure how this all works but I imagine that Capital Spending is budgeted on a medium to long-term basis and then debt funding (bond issue) is used to fund the plan. Seems that this plan was either under-borrowed or over-spent. Maybe someone can provide a better explanation.

        What I know for sure is that this Fund Balance transfer was made from Future Retirement Plan Rate Stabilization designation to Capital in the last week of the prior fiscal year. As a taxpayer I liked having this protection in reserve as we know the velocity of PSERS increases that is upon us. Now its been transferred to a Fund that WILL be spent. I had a discussion with the Board about this at the last Budget Workshop…you can see it on their TV channel (where you really have to turn the sound up). Watch the Facilities Committee Chair explanation of this…can’t borrow until 2017…needed it now…never needed it to off-set PSERS increases… No mention of spending funds too quickly OR of slowing down the Capital plan. Regardless, Facilities is now flush with new dollars secured from Fund Balance. I need to start making time to go the these meetings….

        1. They are not “flush” … the Capital Projects Plan shows that TESD will use up the current bond money plus the 10 million from the general fund by 2015 /16 … they’ll have to get another bond. It was announced & discussed at Facilities ….

      3. It looks like Cindy has uncovered something significant here, per her report.

        A $50,000 capital project that is going to be funded from the General Fund. How can this be?

        Well, one way could be that the 2012/13 budget has so much slack in it that the District is looking for ways to use up the funds to avoid a second consecutive “surprise” $4 million surplus.

        And using the inflated current year expense to build a further inflated projection model to squeeze both taxpayers and staff.

        Is the Board paying attention to the big picture, or studying the cost of replacement tennis nets?

  4. “… the township engineer Steve Burgo is stating that the stormwater requirement must be met whether the courts go or stay.”

    So why demolish the tennis courts if the stormwater compliance must still be met if the district builds the parking lot?

    Then, if the district applies for and fails to be granted a variance from the ZHB, the price for the project jumps by $1 million for stormwater compliance according to Tom Daley estimates. If that is the case, each parking space would then be costing the taxpayer almost $52,000 per space. This is a huge non-educational expense. Is this why the school taxes continue to rise? .

  5. I do not consider a discussion of issues “bitching and whining”. This time the discussion was about tennis courts at VFES — yes, it is the school district’s property to do with as they wish. Residents may have little say in those decisions so that makes the discussion all the more valuable (in my opinion).

    Here’s another one that many suggested was a NIMBY issue — the changing of C1 zoning to permit assisted living at Duffy’s in Daylesford. We learned yesterday that the developer Ed Morris has submitted all paperwork for his sketch plan for the Assisted Living Facility on the Duffy Property. This agenda item has been added and will be discussed at the April Planning Commission meeting on Thursday, April 18 at 7 PM. It remains unclear to me (and I’m sure unclear to the Daylesford neighbors) how Morris is going to build the facility on the 1 acre of C1 parcel without the use of the parcel that is zoned R7. Will the developer be held to the township standard for strict storm water management as promised by the supervisors. We learned in the C1 zoning process, the Daylesford neighbors had little effect in changing the minds of the Planning Commissioners and the Board of Supervisors. Now we will see if the Ed Morris is expected to meet the same standard as any other developer in Tredyffrin Township. the Daylesford neighbors are going to be watching the process carefully.

    1. Never said that the tennis courts and the C1 were the SAME issue. The point is that there were some in the community who suggested that Duffy’s assisted living was a NIMBY issue to a few Daylesford neighbors in the same way that the tennis courts are a NIMBY issue to Brookmeade neighbors.

      And yes, I have always known (and previously stated) that the tennis courts are on school district property and yes, the District can do whatever they wish with the tennis courts. And no amount of discussion can change their minds. I get it and your point is understood.

      Do I think that the Brookmeade neighbors care about Duffy’s location as an assisted living — about as much as I think that the Daylesford neighbors care about the VFES tennis courts.

      As to what I find valuable to discuss — guess that’s up to me. And if you (or the rest of those that read CM) don’t find it of any value, I guess that will limit the comments.

  6. “And yes, I have always known (and previously stated) that the tennis courts are on school district property and yes, the District can do whatever they wish with the tennis courts. And no amount of discussion can change their minds.”

    The school board makes many decisions regarding school district property, but my point is that the taxpayers are funding all of those decisions. That’s why people should be engaged in the process. The tennis court is not in my backyard. From a fiscal perspective, by not demolishing it that would save the TE taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. As stated before the tennis courts don’t play into the stormwater issue of the parking lot project.

  7. The District should investigate permeable paving as an alternative to asphalt. Using this green technology, it’s simple to create a parking area that does not contribute at all to storm water runoff, and thus requires no balancing demolition of other impermeable surfaces.

  8. The Facilities April 12 meeting agenda has been posted on the TESD website. For those interested …it has maps ,letters, and timelines..

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