The Oakwell property, with the adjacent Acorn Cottage tract (13.4 acres combined), was purchased and will be razed by Lower Merion School District, FOR USE AS AUXILIARY FIELDS for the new middle school. The property owner previously had an agreement to sell to Villanova University (for use as a priests' retreat) which was upended when the district threatened eminent domain in December 2018.
The district used tax dollars for litigation subsequent to the eminent domain dispute and prevailed.
The district used tax dollars for litigation (at the onset of the 2020 pandemic) to appeal and overturn the Township’s conditions of approval.
Beyond the $13 million cost of the tract, the cost to develop fields is estimated to be upwards of $10 million in tax dollars.
Oakwell is NOT contiguous with the new middle school and is NOT considered to be walkable from the school. Using Oakwell for sports REQUIRES BUSING.
The new middle school DOES HAVE FIELDS. The new middle school's original plan included a baseball/multipurpose field, a softball/multipurpose field, tennis courts, and a gym. Later this was changed to a football/multipurpose field, track, and tennis courts.
A 2022 independent enrollment study funded by tax dollars projected FLAT TO DECLINING ENROLLMENT. The district is now using tax dollars for a second study on projected enrollment.
A needs assessment for auxiliary fields has not been produced by the district. The district cites "stress on our transportation system" to justify the destruction of Oakwell.
The district claims that they sought alternative sites for fields and exhausted all possibilities. Cooperating with nearby schools and colleges for field-sharing has been rejected. However, the township continues to seek alternative sites, pursuing collaborative negotiation to secure such sites.
In protecting the irreplaceable resource that is Oakwell, we do not dismiss the value of sports for kids. A more inclusive use of Oakwell would address the value of STEM education (real-world application of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), visual and performing arts, horticulture, literature, and non-competitive physical activity.
Kobe Bryant played basketball in Lower Merion High School's plain, old-fashioned gym. Our athletes can compete while SHARING the district's precious resources, to protect the kids' own futures.
Lower Merion Township has made a commitment to sustainability. The destruction of Oakwell's wooded acres and centuries-old trees is inconsistent with community values and with climate science principles taught by Lower Merion School District.
Oakwell's value is evinced in its contribution to air quality, soil quality, thermoregulation, watershed quality, and its provision of a food chain and habitat for insects, birds, and other animals.
Arborists agree that the district's plan to make up for the loss of 500+ old-growth trees by planting small, young trees around the site perimeter is not close to a realistic replacement.
Oakwell is home to several of the few remaining historically significant structures that are part of Lower Merion's cultural heritage. Previously, the new middle school erased all traces of the historically significant Clothier Estate and its gardens and 500+ trees.
Oakwell can be spared and utilized FOR ALL in a non-destructive way, while the needs of those students inclined to play sports can be met with alternative plans.
The plans for development at Oakwell began in 2018, "several climates ago." A change of course by the district in the face of a rapidly evolving ecological crisis would set an admirable example to the children and the community.
Oakwell has the potential to be a unique community resource FOR ALL. How do you envision its use?