Phoenixville school construction plan shaping up

Meadowbrook Golf Course adjacent to the Phoenixville Middle School. ¬ Photo by Kevin Hoffman, 21st Century Media

PHOENIXVILLE — Although a decision has not yet come down on the emminent domain dispute between the Phoenixville Area School District and Meadow Brook Golf Club, plans for the new school complex on the golf course property continue to develop.

“Last Wednesday, we held the last design meeting for the building,” said Phoenixville Executive Director of Operations Stan Johnson Thursday. “We had administrators, office staff, nurses and secretaries trying to figure out where we should put printers, copiers, where we can store files (in the offices). We’re in it at that level of detail.”

The district has planned to build a combined earlier learning center and elementary school since the spring of 2013, ultimately deciding to acquire the Meadow Brook property for the project in the fall.

In Thursday’s Phoenixville Area School Board meeting, Board Vice President Dan Cushing said that if the maximum amount of traffic improvements and other work have to be done, the “all-in” figure the district would pay for the entire project is estimated to be $80 million. Johnson told 21st Century Media earlier in the day that his current best estimate for what the project will actually entail ranges from $55 to $60 million.

“Everything is very preliminary,” Johnson said of the plans. “We do not have final concepts yet.”

Some factors, such as road improvements PennDOT indicated it will require, make numbers fluid and specific estimates for different pieces of the project difficult to nail down, Johnson said.

In response to meeting or exceeding capacity in many of the district’s elementary education buildings and enrollment projections continuing to rise, Phoenixville hopes to retire both the kindergarten center and East Pikeland Elementary School with the construction of a new combined building at Meadow Brook.

Johnson said it’s estimated that the building, alone, is projected to cost $45 million. It is planned to have capacity for 1,150 students.

As such, he estimates between $10 and $15 million will be needed to construct the necessary parking lots for the school, as well as complete groundwater management systems, make PennDOT-required improvements to roadways near the school and also to construct athletic fields planned to be used both for the early learning center/elementary school and the district’s secondary school students.

Another part of the plan is to add a maintenance building which would be utilized by crews which serve the entire district. That’s classified by Johnson as an “add alternate,” meaning it could be sent out for bid but ultimately decided against.

The school board has not yet voted on anything. The drawings and projections are being made for planning purposes.

Eight athletic fields are planned for the Meadow Brook property behind the school building.

Opponents of Phoenixville’s eminent domain decision believe the school board and district overreached and are trying to acquire a property larger than what they actually need.

The district has contended that Meadow Brook was the only option that fit their needs for the school and are putting the extra space to use.

Since the district’s secondary schools stand adjacent to Meadow Brook, the fields would allow for most of the sports teams which have to go off-campus for practice to stay on district property.

Site plans submitted to Judge Jacqueline Carroll Cody for the legal dispute with Meadow Brook show two full-size baseball fields, two softball fields and two multi-purpose fields (where soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, etc., can be played). Two more multi-purpose field are planned to be built into one of the baseball fields and one of the softball fields.

One baseball field and one stand-alone multi-purpose field are being planned to have artificial turf. Johnson said that is not set in stone but they must be laid out that way in the current plans because of requirements regarding impermeable space for groundwater retention and disposal.

Ultimately, the school board would decide whether those fields become turf or not, a swing of approximately $2 million, Johnson said.

If the fields aren’t initially constructed as turf, they could eventually be converted, Johnson said, especially if a local soccer or baseball club were to partner with the district in the endeavor.

Off the property, the intersection of Route 29 and Pothouse Road has been targeted by PennDOT for improvements, which will likely include the addition of turning lanes and the closing off of Campbell Lane.

Cushing said turning lanes would likely have to be added.

“It’s clearly an intersection that will be impacted and everyone’s known that for a while,” Cushing said.

As such, the district has had traffic engineers due counts and analysis of the intersection to “predict what it should look like” but they’re holding off on final surveying work — which carries additional costs — to find out the result of the court proceedings.

Cushing said neighbors in the area of Meadow Brook and the intersection have participated in talks about the plans, which he found “constructive” and led to the modification of certain designs the district had.

“The core message there is: get involved and provide us with your thoughts,” Cushing said. “The engineers will certainly respond.”

The Meadow Brook property the district hopes to acquire is a little more than 50 acres, but only 33 acres are buildable, Johnson said, due to a protected tributary of Pickering Creek which runs through the golf course. No new construction can be added within a 150 foot radius of the waterway.

As such, the district’s plans for the site leave the northeast corner of the property untouched.

Cody’s decision on Meadow Brook’s legal challenge to the district’s eminent domain decision isn’t expected until at least mid-July.

As such, construction plans are being made so the district can hit the ground running if the court rules in its favor.

As it stands now, the earliest the new early learning center and elementary school building could be open and operational is the fall of 2017.

Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.