District Considers Nativity BVM For Media Elementary Move

Superintendent James Wigo recommended that the district "aggressively go after a lease."

After that will be closed for structural repairs in 2012-13, Rose Tree Media School District Superintendent James Wigo recommended to parents at a Monday night that the school district "aggressively go after a lease" for the use of 's facilities in the coming school year.

Nativity BVM has not yet agreed to lease the facility, but at the request of the school district, did meet with RTMSD officials for a preliminary discussion of what a lease might mean for both parties, Wigo said.

Why Nativity BVM

Out of a number of relocation options being considered, leasing Nativity's space would best meet the goals of the district, which include keeping all 425 Media Elementary students together, using space within the borough, and being financially responsible, Wigo said.

In March, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia , which will leave Nativity vacant at the end of the school year.

Wigo said he and Director of Management Services Grace Eves met with Nativity BVM's parish council last week.

"They agreed that they would be willing to entertain the possibility of a lease with Rose Tree Media School District," Wigo said. The parish recently sent a letter to the Archdiocese to discuss the option, he added.

"It is my recommendation to the board and to you as parents that we continue to aggressively go after that lease—and I mean aggressively," Wigo said. " … The fact of the matter is, it solves all of our problems and solves them all in all very quick order."

Leasing the Nativity property for a year would keep all the Media Elementary students together, keep students in the borough, would not increase transportation costs, and would cost "a mere fraction" of the $2 million necessary to build a modular school on Barrall Field, Wigo said.

The two-block distance would make moving materials significantly easier, and provides a "tremendous amount of flexibility," in that students could be moved back into the Media Elementary building as soon as construction is completed.

"I believe that this will be the solution with no fatal flaws," Wigo said. "There are some flaws we'll have to work through, but I don't believe any of them are fatal flaws."

The other options being considered by the district each had what Wigo called "fatal flaws":

  • Leasing either Roosevelt School or St. Kevin's in Springfield would have required significant, expensive safety upgrades on top of the cost of a lease and transportation costs for all 425 students.
  • Creating a modular school on Barrall Field would have cost upwards of $2 million and packed the field from end-to-end with modular units. Consequently, it would have eliminated use of the field for groups like the Media softball team.
  • Splitting students across the district would separate families, require transportation to the four corners of the school district, cause disruptions at those elementary schools, and require modular classrooms at each school.

Parent Concerns

Parents raised several concerns about current conditions at the elementary school and the potential future at Nativity, including:

Current student safety at MES. Two parents expressed concern for the three classrooms still located on the third floor of the building. However, the building has been checked meticulously for problems and issued a certificate of safety, Wigo said, and those parts of the building are "good as new."

Children crossing Baltimore Pike on their walk to school. Wigo assured parents that if the district obtains a lease with Nativity, the list of "walkers" and "riders" will change in accordance with distance regulations, and also, the use of a crossing guard for busy areas like Baltimore Pike will be seriously considered.

Parking shortages at Nativity BVM. Currently, MES and Nativity run the same number of buses each day, but there is still the issue of teacher parking. Wigo said the issue is on the district's radar and some options are being considered, including using the MES parking lot and shuttling teachers to and from the school.

Other Notes

  • The use of Nativity BVM would also require the use of six modular classrooms, housed in three trailers. The district would use the same company and same model as the modular units at , Wigo said.
  • There is no plan to increase class sizes, Wigo said.
  • A construction fence will be put up at MES, and 99 percent of the construction will be happening away from the tennis courts, playground and field, leaving these open for use.
  • Classes like art, music and gym would remain if the district leases from Nativity.
  • There would be no Catholic/Christian artifacts in the school during school hours and school activities, Wigo said. In the district's preliminary talks with Nativity, the district agreed that the grotto in the front of the building will remain. "We don't know what we'll do—maybe put something over it—but we said we won't take it down," Wigo said. 
  • Catholic youth who attend evening classes/religious activities at the school would continue to do so. "We will work around each other—it will be a collaborative dance," Wigo explained.
  • Some ADA compliance issues would need to be resolved, such as widening handicapped bathroom stalls and installing an automatic stair chair; Nativity has no elevator.
  • The convent would not be utilized, as the district doesn't really have a use for it.

Moving Forward

The district will finance the installation of steel beams and steel columns in Media Elementary School by using money from the district's "rainy day fund," or emergency fund.

"This is the definition of an emergency," Wigo said. "There are sufficient funds to cover [the costs of construction and relocation]; we will not have to raise taxes or go out and borrow. The hopeful optimist in me says we'll be able to recoop most of [the costs] through insurance claims."

If the district can't obtain a lease with Nativity, "we'll have to go back to one of the other options—and that will probably be splitting kids across the district. We don't have an 'option two' after that," Wigo said. "... But I think we have a 98 percent shot of leasing that building."

If the Archdiocese and Nativity BVM eventually agree to lease to the school district, the lease would start on July 1. Wigo said the district would run a number of tours over the summer to introduce students to the school.

Barbara Bacchia April 24, 2012 at 12:55 PM
Interesting that the sole reason the appeal was granted and the site of the new regional school was reversed was due to concerns about Nativity's building. Clearly, this is not an issue as 400 students will now be located there. And even more noteworthy is that the Nativity site is being sought after because it has little or no safety issues. How sad that this school which is celebrating its 100th year this year willl soon be stripped of its Catholic identity and turned into a public school. Nativity's pastor and staff must be very proud of their accomplishments. They have wasted no time and have showed a complete lack of sensitivity in agreeing to allow this beautiful Catholic building to be violated by "covering up" the grotto outside and removing all artifacts. Once again, money wins.
Amanda Mahnke April 24, 2012 at 01:00 PM
Barbara, thanks for your comment. I think it's worth reiterating that the parish has NOT agreed yet to let RTMSD lease the building; they only agreed to meet preliminarily with the district about use of the building to discuss what that would look like.
Clayt Oneill April 24, 2012 at 02:19 PM
Perhaps it may be worth considering how many of the BVM families may elect to have their children continue at their "home school" and not transfer to St. Johns. This could be a positive for the "walkers" who might have just a year or two left of their elementary education. As the plan is proposed there will still be the oppurtunity to conduct their religious training in familiar surroundings with their neighborhood classmates.
Joe Hare April 24, 2012 at 03:22 PM
Talk about adding insult to injury. Injury = After years of dedication to the school and the parish, and by dedication I mean time, talent and treasure (lots of treasure for some families), their dedication is beging rewarded by kicking them out of their beloved school so they can sit in trailers at St Johns, while the public school gets to reap the benefit of the years of hard work. The insult? Having to strip the school of all things religious, and covering up the grotto. What's next? Moving the district offices into the Brick Building? Putting a Starbucks in the Narthex? How about a Rita's in the conference room? And why not an Enterprise rent a car in the Rectory? Why not? Pretty soon you'll have no parishioners left.
Chris Reynolds April 24, 2012 at 03:26 PM
This makes too much sense, Surely the Archdiocese will find a way to bollix it up.
Tina Loveland-Smith April 24, 2012 at 07:50 PM
On a positive note, if this lease is approved, the leaders of Nativity are living their Christianity by extending a hand to a neighbor in need. Let’s not forget that many of the students who attend Media Elementary are also members of Nativity BVM Parish. While it is very sad that Nativity School has been slated to merge with St. John’s, it is a wonderful opportunity for the building to continue as a school and serve as a temporary home for over 4oo students.
Joyce April 24, 2012 at 09:07 PM
I am very surprised by these comments. I understand that the parishioners must be saddened and heartbroken that the school is closing down. That has nothing to do with OUR students at Media Elementary that NEED a temporary home. I get it, the Grotto getting covered up must be heartbreaking, but if the building was sold by the Catholic Church and turned into another type of business wouldn't it be taken down. Let's look at the light of the situation, by the unfortunate closing of this school you will be able to provide 425 children in the community a place of learning TOGETHER. Isn't it rewarding to know that you will be helping fellow community members. I think if the situation was turned around then OUR RTMSD would bend over backwards to help your Catholic School Students find a resolution. This situation is not about money. This situation is about keeping a school community together that needs a temporary home. Children's laughter, safety and education is more important then the covering of the Grotto or removal of religious artifacts. Let's try to keep thinking positive. It is not the Media Elementary community that has taken your school, it the powers to be in your faith. I know I was so upset to hear your school was closing when we all got the news. It is wonderful that your children had the opportunity to go to school in a building with such character. But our children need a home for a temporary period of time, we are gracious that this is an opportunity for us. Thanks
Ann April 24, 2012 at 10:00 PM
What a good, and positive way of looking at the situation Joyce and Tina! The children and their welfare is our top priority! I would like to see the children stay together!
Roseanne Margis April 24, 2012 at 10:53 PM
The thing is, Father Edward Bell flat out lied to his parishioners. He told us he wanted the school and would fight for the school. Then he told his parishioners that his vow of obedience prevented him from doing anything about the location of the regional school being changed. The FACT is that when Fr. Bell was told on Jan 5th that the 2 schools would be merging at Nativity he stated that he did not want the school and set in motion plans to end 100 years of Catholic education in Media. The Nativity families have been betrayed by their pastor and the archdiosece knows it. It has been a very difficult time and the incredible irony of location change based on facility followed by their friends and neighbors at Media Elementary's potential use of said facility is just one in a series of scenarios that have left Nativity school families saddened and hurt. While understanding the needs of Media Elementary and sympathizing with their situation, it will be another wound to the Nativity families to see the Grotto with the statue of their Lord Jesus Christ covered as well as the other symbols of their truly tested faith. The deal would allow CCD and CYO to continue, it should also stipulate that the grotto and artifacts should not be covered. ool and plans
Joyce April 25, 2012 at 12:59 AM
It was mentioned that during the CCD and DYO classes that the symbols of faith would be placed back accordingly. It is truly unfortunate that this has happened to your school and as I may not have experienced this type of situation personally, I hear and many other MES parents hear your anguish over this. But on a positive note the halls will be filled with a great bunch of kids. It is better then it being used as another half vacant office building in town. I am truly sorry for the closing of your school. I hope you will find some comfort knowing that MES is a great school community and will take good care of the building. I hope that this is a sure thing for the MES students. I know parking was an issue for the teachers. Where is the parking for the teachers of Nativity now?
Roseanne Margis April 25, 2012 at 01:16 AM
Thank you very much Joyce. The teachers park next to the parish center (old convent) and on the street. I am often at the school and have no trouble finding a parking space either on Gayley or Jefferson.
Rita Nunag April 25, 2012 at 06:30 PM
Let's be clear, the situation IS about money. The pastor of Nativity BVM did not want to be involved financially or otherwise in a Catholic parish school, but he is willing to work through the details to support a school stripped of its religious affiliation that will make him money.
Courtney Elko (Editor) April 25, 2012 at 07:20 PM
It sounds like the Nativity BVM community is upset with their pastor, Father Bell, not the Media Elementary community, correct?
John Daly April 25, 2012 at 07:41 PM
I wish the Media Elementary school community much success while utilizing Nativity BVM parish school. It was a great school that served the children of the parish for 100 years. The graduates of NBVM were well prepared academically, socially and morally to enter high school and beyond. The anger and frustration of the Nativity school parents is not directed at the Media elementary community. It is directed at the Office of Catholic Education (OCE) and the Nativity pastor, or as he likes to call himself, the messenger. In February our school was closed by an abrupt announcement by the Archdiocese without explanation or information. We were informed our kids would have to attend St. John’s (SJC) in Wallingford. What little information was passed on to us (and I do mean little) was that the Nativity school building lacked available parking and it required $800,000 worth of improvements to remain open and viable. It is rather funny how $800,000 worth of needed improvements has been abated in less than 30 days at the building. It is also obvious the justifications for closing the school were deceiving and spurious. Again, the anger and frustration we have as Nativity parents is not directed at the Media Elementary school community but at the lack of leadership and transparency at the parish level and from OCE.
Amanda Mahnke April 25, 2012 at 08:12 PM
I think part of the reason the district is considering the use of Nativity BVM as a solution to Media Elementary's problem is that the lease—at most—will be for one year. At the meeting, Superintendent Wigo said something along the lines of, if the district was looking for a place to house these 425 students for 6, 8, 10 years, rather than 1 year, the district would likely be looking at other solutions.
Barbara Bacchia April 25, 2012 at 11:11 PM
That would make sense, Amanda, as keeping students in modular classrooms in trailers for an extended period of time is not an ideal situation. Courtney, you are correct in stating that the Nativity parents' anger and frustration is not directed at the MES community. We are all parents and want what is best for the children of our community. This is certainly not about Nativity parents exhibiting un-Christian behavior or not willing to help out our neighbors in need. What I think people need to understand is that the Nativity school building is still a part of our parish and has not been sold. Therefore, to discuss covering up the grotto and removing everything religious from the building is difficult for us to accept. Our children have been taught to defend their faith and to respect it and others as well. For them to walk by the school and see everything religious either removed or covered up sends them the wrong message. I realize this is a difficult situation for everyone, but there must be compromise. I am hopeful that the Archdiocese will negotiate a fair lease agreement that will allow our parish building to remain a symbol of our Catholic faith while also providing a solution to the MES community's temporary predicament.
Paul April 26, 2012 at 01:16 AM
The structural problems at MES and Nativity's closing have nothing to do with each other. The vitriol and hyperbole about commercializing other Church property are as un-Christian and ill considered as it gets. The situation is sad for Nativity, but as a parishoner and an MES parent, I'm happy that the spirit and echoes of what was Nativity will have a chance to house and nourish children at least a little longer. I would hate to see the grotto covered, but it will need a new home eventually. If circumstance led to your children needing a former Mosque, Temple or Sikh shrine, would you want the religious artifacts on display for your children? Would it make them uncomfortable to be unwelcome guests? The people who have come and gone are Nativity, not the bricks and mortar. These are but symbols; the heart and soul of what made - and will continue to make - Nativity special will live on. Conspiracy theories offer no solutions but only foster hate and mistrust. I have the deepest symapathy and respect for the Nativity School families whose lives have been up-ended, but there is no sinister convergence of events. Lament the events that closed Nativity, but rejoice that other children - good children of all faiths - may benefit.
Tina Loveland-Smith April 26, 2012 at 03:28 AM
Well said, Paul.


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