Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Contrary to what you may have heard … No compromise reached on planned Valley Forge Middle School fencing!

As we learned at Monday night Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisor meeting there seems to be some cfencing 2onfusion and/or misunderstanding surrounding TE School District’s planned fencing project at Valley Forge Middle School. Some members of the school board have suggested that the issue was settled with the Green Hills homeowners and Chesterbrook Civic Association and compromise reached. We learned at the supervisors meeting, that the township solicitor Vince Donohue (and apparently the supervisors), had heard the same inaccurate rumor.

Other than a statement by TESD President Kris Graham read to a handful of people at the Facilities Meeting on Friday, April 10, 2 PM, there has been no communication whatsoever between the school district and the Valley Forge Middle School neighbors regarding the fencing. But somehow, the school board president’s statement was translated by the school board as an agreement and circulated to the public. Negotiation is a discussion between both parties trying to work on a solution. It doesn’t work when you only have one party at the table.

During the public comment period at the supervisors meeting, Green Hills resident and president of the Chesterbrook Civic Association David Miller, read the following prepared statement which offers historical background. I think its important for people to understand that the VFMS fencing issue is unique and differs from the other TESD fencing projects.

Although the fencing project will probably not be listed on the agenda for the TESD school board meeting, on Monday, April 27 (7:30 PM at Conestoga High School), I strongly urge the Green Hills residents to attend and voice their concerns and opposition.

Good evening my name is David Miller, I am President of the Chesterbrook Civic Association and a resident of Green Hills in Chesterbrook; I’ve lived in the township for over 20 years.

We are here because:

  • The Chesterbrook Civic Association has a legal agreement with the TESD concerning development around VFMS. This agreement was reached and documented with the township’s assistance through the special exception granted by the zoning hearing board when the 4 athletic fields adjacent to VFMS were developed in 2002/3.
  • At the April 10th Facilities Committee meeting we think the TESD presented plans that will violate this agreement. I say we “think” because nothing is in writing and the fact that the VFMS fence was going to be discussed was only added to the agenda 2 hours before the Facilities Committee Meeting which was held at 2:00 on a Friday. So, as you would expect, it was difficult to getting people there at the last minute.
  • We think their plan is to build a fence along the northern border of the original Middle School lot and along Valley forge Road to the border with Green Hills and then along the border with Green Hills to the first residents property line.
  • So why should you care – This is not just a dispute between neighbors. This is issue impacts the entire community. If the TESD builds the fence as we think they are planning, it will negatively impact all of Chesterbrook, cost the township money and is inconsistent with the Chesterbrook master plan.

Let me give you some background:

  • In 2002 the TESD presented a plan to build 5 fields and a parking lot on the RC zoned lot between VFMS and Chesterbrook. This plan had many significant issues and could not be built as presented. But more importantly at this time the township was developing Wilson Park and there was some view that the school district should provide fields for students and the township should provide fields for the sports leagues. From the residents perspective it’s the same kids in different uniforms. After discussion the township formed a committee consisting of members of the township staff, planning commission, school board and residents to work out a plan. Which we did and which was built and documented. The legal agreement between the CCA and TESD, documented during the Zoning Hearing Board’s Public Hearing when the special exception was granted is the result of this process.
  • Let me read some highlights from 2002.
  • We do not know the school board’s view on this agreement, they will not return my calls or emails and have directed their attorney not to work with our attorney. But based on the last Facilities Committee Meeting we do know they moved the fence 600 feet away from the residents after receiving letters from our attorneys. So maybe they are starting to take this seriously.

What are the issues?

  1. The fence will block community access to the playing fields. In 2002 the planning commission required the TESD to add parking to the VFMS lot to accommodate people who would be using the 4 new fields. This fence will block the path from the parking to the fields. People will either have to park on Chesterbrook Boulevard or the township will have to provide alternate sites for the sports teams. How are you going to pay for 4 new multipurpose fields? The TESD has made it very clear we should expect the gates to be locked except when students are going to and from school.
  2. The walking paths will be blocked so residents can’t walk to Gateway, Wilson Park and St. Isaacs. These paths are part of the original Chesterbrook Master Plan. Again, back in 2002 the TESD was required to rebuild the walking path so residents could pass by the school … why would you let them block these paths now? If there isn’t an alternate route for residents to get around VFMS they will walk on school property. The school board has said they will direct the schools to call the police when unauthorized people are on school property, so are they really going to call the police when some resident is walking to Wilson Park or St. Isaacs? Why would we create this issue? Police time is valuable and there is at least one easy fix, just build a short connector path behind the football field between the exiting sidewalk and the existing walking path.
  3. We think their plan calls for a fence to nowhere in the woods. Besides being silly since it will be parallel to an existing fence around the field closest to VF road, so that they are just fencing in the trees, it violates the provision that calls for the woods to be undisturbed.
  4. Finally, we believed the school board’s attorney when he said “the district will be legally bound” and “any material change in that plan we understand we have to come back before this board”… there has to be some integrity a process sanctioned by the Supervisors back in 2002.

So we would like you to tell the TESD to honor their commitment from 2002 and then implement the same process we used last time by creating a group consisting of residents, staff and officials to resolve this quickly and reasonably. We are parents and are not against student safety we just want a plan that makes sense.

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  1. Thanks Patty for keeping us informed.

    Besides our Green Hills neighbors, anyone in the Brookmead Farms neighborhood should also attend. It has been learned that the school board wants to erect a 6 foot fence along the Valley Forge Road—why? For over 25years there was no need for any fences in our community. Now all of a sudden–there are fences all over. Enough. Put the money toward our kids’ school supplies not fences.
    See you on Monday.
    Pat McHugh

    1. Pat, I believe that the chain link fence along Valley Forge Road at VFMS is to be 4-ft. Fences that are 4 ft. or under do not require a variance from the township. However, the school board does intend to have a 6-ft. behind the playing fields at VFMS. If I understand the zoning regulations, fences that are side yards or back yards can be 6-ft. but restricts the 6-ft in the front yard, unless there is a variance. Valley Forge Road is considered the ‘front yard’ of VFMS, so to avoid the zoning requirement, the District is opting for a 4-ft. fence.

    2. thanks Pat…A great question is if we gave the teachers $190,000, instead of wasting it on fences, how much good could they do with that? A lot, I think. What riles me up in particular now is that we are learning that the School District is planning to jack up our taxes by a whopping 3.8%.. and take on a lot of new bond debt as well..all the while tossing around money on fences like its going out of style..

  2. When it comes to having a fence around our school properties for security purposes, the cons outweigh the pros. It will limit egress in times of emergency. It will force students to walk/run along the fence line to find an open exit, which could make them easier targets for a bully or a stalker. And, face it, a four-foot-high chain link fence will EASILY be scaled or hopped by ne’er-do-wells. It is only the smaller school children who will have trouble getting over it in times of emergency.

    We live in a beautiful area. The community has provided our schools with large park-like properties (thank you Green Hills!). Now, this latest generation of TESD “leaders” want to put up chain link fences. And, they apparently intend to break covenant with the very community that provided them property while doing so!

    This fencing will demonstrably change our neighborhood, and it will change the atmosphere for our students. A chain link fence along VFMS’ property line on VF Road (or VFES’s property line facing Walker Road) will make it look like a prison. And, it will detract from our sense of community, while providing questionable benefit – i.e., other than marking territory.

    Tyranny (tyr·an·ny): unfair treatment by people with power over others.

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