UCFSD holds ‘disappointing’ conversation on plan

About 45 Unionville-Chadds Ford School District residents took part in what was billed as a community conversation regarding the district’s Long Range Facilities Plan Monday night. Some residents who attended were less than satisfied.

Chadds Ford resident Mark Stookey, who was denied certain documents regarding the plan after filing a right-to-know request, said the meeting was “disappointing.”

“While seeking input from residents is a positive, much of the time was wasted discussing the replacement of roofs, chillers, and toilets — the merit of which nobody disputes. The district provided no new information on the controversial aspects of the proposal for new outdoor facilities and made no real attempt to justify major investments in fields and tennis courts. The presenters were unable to answer substantive questions,” Stookey said after the meeting.

Assistant Superintendent of Schools John Nolen leads a discussion on the long-range plan with one of the break-out groups during Monday night’s community conversation on the proposed plan.

As previously reported, Stookey appealed the district’s partial denial of his Right-to-Know request and the Office of Open Records ruled in his favor, but the district is appealing that decision to the Chester County Court of Common Pleas. His primary concern, he’s said, has been to get information on one part of the plan that calls for upgrading the athletic facilities.

“My suggestion for a comprehensive evaluation of the $2-plus million proposal for a double wide artificial turf field was met with silence. The district claims the new field has favorable economics, will save untold student time and has a positive health and injury profile, but has failed to back up these conclusions with data. In short, the Community Conversation was another superficial attempt by the district to sell their plan, rather than a true engagement with the community about needs and alternatives,” he said.

Fellow Chadds Ford resident Mike Ashmore was also critical. “From my perspective, the meeting was only marginally useful. There were very limited opportunities to ask questions and get answers, and the discussion groups were all about individual likes and dislikes,” he said.

He specifically mentioned concerns over spending for the athletic fields.

“Two projects — double turf field and tennis courts — received the most attention. Those in favor related benefits from all-weather use of turf fields ‘stacked’ uses, and associated time savings for students. Speaking as a biased participant, however, they spoke only of wants rather than needs. Those opposed wanted justifications for the costs and more thorough analyses of the needs and alternatives.”

James Whitesel, the district’s supervisor of buildings and grounds, began the session with a brief review of the current draft of the plan. Attendees then broke out into three groups to hear more specifics and offer their suggestions. Their responses are to be taken into consideration before the board votes on the plan.

Whitesel said the plan gives the school board and administration a chance to look at the facilities and its needs over a 10-year-period and that it is deliberately flexible.

“The plan was never meant to be static,” he said. “It’s meant to be fluid.”

The plan itself covers 10-year period broken down into three sections, years one through three, years four through six and years seven through 10. According to School Board Director Vic Dupuis, other elements of the plan need to be addressed beginning January and February because they need to be factored into the 2019-2020 budget. He said that action on the fields would take place during the fourth year, but prep work would start in the third.

Overall, the plan calls for maintaining $223 million worth of facilities. Expenses anticipated for the first three years of the plan would be $12 million, or $4 million each year for those first three years.

During those first three years, roughly $1,740,000 would be spent on the high  school, $4,500,000 on the middle school, $1,070,000 at Chadds Ford Elementary School, $2,850,000 at Hillendale, $450,000 at Pocopson and $599,000 at Unionville Elementary School. An additional $780,000 would be spent on other district-wide projects.

The entire plan, as proposed, would cost $23,485,000 over the 10-year-period.

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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