Stop the Sale of the Kindergarten Center

Daily Local News OPINION PUBLISHED: June 23, 2022
By BILL RETTEW | wrettew@dailylocal.com

LETTER: Former board president joins opposition to Phoenixville School District selling land to developer

The following Opinion letter was written by Lisa Longo, Phoenixville, former PASD school board member

On March 28, 2022, five members of the Phoenixville Area School District board voted to approve the sale of the old Kindergarten Center located at 100 School Lane in Phoenixville to Toll Brothers Inc. for $4.6 million despite overwhelming public outcry against the sale and little to no public deliberation. This after only having the item listed on public agendas for a few months, and with most of the board there for less than 6 months.

I became involved in late 2021 when a community member contacted me with concerns over an item on an agenda to sell a parcel of land in the borough of Phoenixville. What started as a simple request for more information and due diligence has now turned into a legal matter. The question is, why is the board rushing the process to sell a property they held for years pending possible future use? What is the rush now?

The old Kindergarten Center in Phoenixville is a large parcel in a part of the Borough that is walkable to downtown, in a neighborhood of small bungalow-style houses and without direct access to major roadways. Suddenly, the five board members, without any special hearing or detailed public deliberation or transparent due diligence, pushed through a vote against overwhelming public opposition.

Some of the questions brought to the board included concerns about stormwater, drainage, contamination and loss of habitat, as well as the fact that development could cause irreparable environmental harm. Another question asked was with regard to tax increases due to development. According to the Chester County Planning Commission report, Return on Environment, development can cost taxpayers $1.11 per tax dollar while open space can cost as little as $.07 per dollar (https://www.chescoplanning.org/OpenSpace/ROE-CommunityCost.cfm).  There are other reasons to preserve open space according to this report, from increased property values to the health and wellness of the community.

Why then did 5 members of the Phoenixville Area School board vote to sell this parcel of land that is one of the last large open spaces in the Borough of Phoenixville, especially given the fact that over 1,000 community members signed a petition and the borough wanted to buy the land and keep as open space?

Dozens of community members spoke, echoing the petition, asking the board not to approve the sale and many spoke at the only two board meetings where the vote was to take place, overwhelmingly (all but one person spoke against the sale), asking them to not allow the sale for a proposed minimum of 80-plus townhomes, putting high-density housing development in an area that is not even zoned for that type of development.

It is up to the board to prove this sale benefits taxpayers, and so far, they have failed. The only reasons stated by board members so far are that the district isn’t in the “business of property management.” Spoiler alert, yes they are, and the second the board keeps repeating, that this sale has been discussed since 2017, again, spoiler, no it has not.

The idea that the school district, one of the largest property owners in the area, which rents out both buildings and fields and employs numerous maintenance staff and built a “maintenance” building does not engage in property management is confusing, what are they doing if not managing the properties they own and rent?

On the second point, that supposedly this was discussed since 2017, the board had no substantive conversations about selling the land, and in fact, had agreed to hold the land pending the proposed Phoenixville commuter rail project.

The Phoenixville Area School District board agreed to hold this parcel of land from early 2018 until after I left the board at the end of 2019, and as far as I know, that was in place in 2020 as well. The first discussion of the sale seems to have been some time in 2021. And it is important to note that every member of the current board has been there 2 years or less, and some only a few months. So this idea that “the board” had conversations for 4 years is ridiculous.

From a lack of due diligence to allegations of misinformation, this sale is under scrutiny. In a highly questionable move, videos of past meetings were suddenly “deleted” by the district, videos that certainly would show what was, and what was not, discussed.

We now have a group working to protect open space. The coalition is raising money for legal fees, https://gofund.me/5ce5ef89, and filed a complaint with the Chester County Court of Common Pleas, alleging violations of the Sunshine Law.

The complaint alleges serious violations including failure to properly disclose meetings. In addition, there are questions about the information the district posted on the website, seemingly in an effort to justify the sale. Repeated questions on why the factors and variables seem to be incorrect have gone unanswered, as have many questions and concerns brought to the board, where taxpayers implored the board for additional study to ensure this sale was truly in the best interest of taxpayers.

During the April 25 PASD board meeting, I reminded the board of their oath of office and challenged them to explain how their vote upheld that oath. It should be noted that not a single member who voted has articulated a single reason why they voted for this sale, or how it upholds their oath.

Each of you swore an oath to uphold the PA Constitution. Now, please explain how your vote meets the requirement of this specific article:

Article I Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution states: The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people

This property belongs to taxpayers. Not the district. You are trustees for us, and yet the 5 who voted to sell ignored the overwhelming calls for additional review.

Organizers are planning a Community Town Hall for Sunday, June 26, from 3 to 5 pm on Washington Ave, overlooking the Kindergarten Center parking lot. The PASD school board meets on June 27 at 7 pm and members of the public are encouraged to attend and speak. Organizers are planning a Community Town Hall for Sunday, June 26, from 3 to 5 pm on Washington Ave, overlooking the Kindergarten Center parking lot. The PASD school board meets on June 27 at 7 pm and members of the public are encouraged to attend and speak.

Those interested in more information. See Phoenixville Area Friends of Open Space or email pxvareafriendsofopenspace@gmail.com to learn more and receive updates


Phoenixville Area Friends of Open Space

start

S.O.S. Save Open Space

Stop the Sale of the Kindergarten Center campaign.

We had a great time at the Dogwood Festival. Our float was a hit and we met so many people who support saving the K-Ctr. See the photo album here.

We are moving forward to petition the Chester County Court of Common Pleas to reject the School District’ petition for the sale’s approval. We think the taxpayers have already paid for this land. This is our open space. Will you help to fund our legal representation and accurate financial analysis in the fight to protect our land and keep our taxes lower?

We have a vision, we have a plan, we can do it ….
With your help!
Now it’s time for you to act.

Thank you to those who have contributed to the Stop the Sale of the Kindergarten Center
gofundme campaign. We need everyone to help a little. We are raising $30,000 to preserve the most significant remaining piece of public open space in Phoenixville. We have petitioned the Chester County Court of Common Pleas and hope you will contribute to the legal representation and associated costs in this fight to protect our land and keep our taxes lower.
We can meet this goal if just 1,000 of Phoenixville’s school district’s 18,000 residents can contribute $30 each. Go to the site gofundme for more info.

  1. CONTRIBUTE to the S.O.S. GOFUNDME 
  2. SIGN the petition titled: Save OPEN SPACE in Phoenixville – Start a Kindergarten Working Group to do the Right Thing. If you already have, pass it on to friend of open space.
  3. TAKE the Kindergarten Center Future Poll. If you already have, pass it on to friend of open space.
  4. EMAIL your Council Members and the School Board telling them to Save this Open Space.
  5. CONTACT the Green Team to join the Phoenixville Area Friends of Open Space team.

Today….now, be the change you want to see in the world.

IT’S OUR OPEN SPACE




What does the Public say?

The ongoing poll started on Dec 6, 2021 conducted by the Phoenixville Green Team and the Phoenixville Area Transition continues to show overwhelming support and excitement for preserving the open space and creating a new Learning Center developed by the Boro. The new Learning Center vision is being linked to the Boro’s new PHXNEO facility up 2nd Ave.  PHXNEO has jump started the Boro’s growing commitment to meeting their 2017 Phoenixville Borough Vision for a future with 100% Renewable Energy.

The current poll results shows how 693 residents want the Kindergarten Ctr to remain in public hands and become a new park and venue for learning and community development. The advocates say there is strong public support for the Boro Development plans.


BACKGROUND SUMMARY

MARCH 28th VOTE SUMMARY

Over 50 advocates pleaded to delay the vote and to create a Working Group to find a way to preserve the school property. They urged the School Board to listen to the 777 poll respondents and 833 stakeholders of the S.O.S – Save Open Space petition supporting the Boro’s $1.8M bid to redevelop the school into a Learning Center and preserve the open space. Advocates were in disbelief in how the School Board considers public participation and what their action teaches the students.

The Board has received 4 offers for the property, ranging from $1.75 million to $3.9 million. Please click here for details about each of the offers.

The Borough of Phoenixville is one of the bidders for this property.  
A recent video outlines the Borough plans for the SoMax HTC project at the Waste Water Treatment Plant adjacent to the Kindergarten Center.  It includes a brief description of the Education Center planned if they acquire our property.


Kindergarten Center Imagining Meeting 

IMAGINE…

On Monday November 1st, Phoenixville Area Transition and the Green team hosted an  IMAGINING workshop. We explored what the Kindergarten Center at 2nd Ave / 100 School Lane might might become if the people of Phoenixville act NOW to support the Boro of Phoenixville’s purchase of the property.  The poll opened on Dec 6, 2021 reflects the many ideas for the Learning Center to make this property’s transition a product of our community’s imagination and vision for a green Phoenixville

What if the Kindergarten Center 
was owned by the Phoenixville Community?

Imagine a new environmental/educational center nestled in a green space close to the river.
Imagine a trail along that river connecting to the network of trails throughout the Borough.
Imagine a new borough park with playing fields, woods, and paths to explore.
Imagine educational programs in a renovated schoolhouse offering science, technology, engineering, arts, and technology to all residents.
Imagine 18,000 square feet of building saved from the landfill.
Imagine 7.4 acres of open green space saved from the bulldozer.
Imagine what we as a community could do with our old kindergarten center.
Imagine what a reinvigorated Borough could do if the School Board will allow us to IMAGINE.


Phoenixville Area Transition and Phoenixville Green Team Partnership

The Phoenixville Green Team and the Phoenixville Area Transition, along with residents and other Open Space / Trail advocates have organized an initiative to prevent the sale of the 2nd Avenue / School  Lane Kindergarten Center by the Phoenixville Area School District Board. This initiative commenced a comprehensive Town Hall process to imagine what is possible if the public is engaged to create a green and sustainable community use of this property.

Phoenixville Area Transition is a movement to expand community resilience by reorienting the local economy and culture to nature and personal relationships. We are transitioning from dependence on the Industrial Growth Society to interdependence with each other and with nature.  

The Green Team has been advocating for the Phoenixville Greenway since 1989, and this property sale to high density developers will remove Open Space from the Boro and eliminate the opportunity for Greenway / Trail development south along the river. See drawing for reference.

Once open space is developed, it’s gone FOREVER.

What are you waiting for? Take action!