This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website and the Delaware County Daily Times‘ website.
WEST GOSHEN — West Chester Rustin High School may soon have some new neighbors.
At a special meeting held Monday, West Chester Area School Board members voted 7-0 with one abstention to approve a resolution permitting the sale of approximately 49.7 acres of land adjacent to the high school.
The vote came after the board originally tabled the discussion during its monthly meeting on Oct. 26.
“This has been something that has been discussed … (for) many, many years,” said Ricky Swalm, president of the board. “The background information has been discussed and gone through and over and under and whatever.”
The land, which is part of Tax Parcel Number 67-5-6-E, is currently unused. When the district toyed with the idea of closing Penn Wood and Westtown-Thornbury elementary schools to build one larger elementary school, the new school was to be placed on that parcel of land.
…[Please continue the story on the Daily Local News website by clicking here.]
“We purchased about 173 acres of land from a developer back in the early 2000s for a site to build a third high school,” said Superintendent Jim Scanlon. “We didn’t need that entire site for a high school. The board was prepared to close both of those (elementary) buildings.”
However, after Rustin opened in 2006 and after strong opposition from parents in 2008, it was decided to renovate the two elementary schools instead of closing them.
“That really pretty much ended the need for a school that was going to happen there,” Scanlon said.
Since that time, there have been multiple discussions on the different boards about what to do with the empty land.
The district also received numerous unsolicited offers from developers to purchase the property. In 2010, the district had an appraisal done on a little over 37 acres of the land and the value came back at about $2.6 million at that time.
Now, with four other elementary schools in the district needing renovations and instead of the district borrowing money, the board instead wants to sell the almost 50 acres of land to NVR Inc., a local home developer.
The land is approved for about 50 single-family homes on lots of one-third and one-half acres, with 30 acres left over as open space.
The land sale will yield about $5 million, which the district will put into the Capital Reserve Fund to be used for the elementary school renovations.
“We are trying to balance the need and desire to maintain open space while looking for revenue to help offset the costs of renovations to our remaining elementary schools,” Swalm said in a release. “With 30 acres of open space next to the 109 acres of land for Rustin High School, I believe we have accomplished that.”
Many Rustin parents were in attendance for the meeting and the majority spoke, before the vote, against selling the land. A common theme was about the desirability of keeping the open space.
“We put together a comprehensive plan for open space and we looked at several pieces of open space in the township,” said board member Gary Bevilacqua, who was also chairman of the Westtown Open Space Committee. “It was too expensive of a property, it wasn’t the right type of property to develop (as passive or recreational space) – the location, the steep slopes, the surface of the property would take an (extensive) amount of money to excavate.”
Demographic studies show that the district should not experience any significant growth over the next 10 years.
The part of the district that is expected to experience population growth would be in the northern tier, where the district already owns land that could be used for a new elementary school, if needed.
The next step will be for the district to submit the request to Commonwealth Court for a final approval, as per Pennsylvania law.
“Time is not something that this process gives us the luxury of having at this point,” said board member Chris McHune. “Are we ever going to need this property? There is no foreseeable use for that land. Are we getting a favorable outcome for the asset? We’ve had two healthy executive sessions within the last couple of weeks where we really have gotten into this … I do think that we made every attempt to find out. I do think the campus as a whole will remain very beautiful to look at.”