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.
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.
- 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.
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.