Lower Merion Township, PA -- Lower Merion School District has changed its mind on where to locate athletic fields for its proposed Middle School.

At a special meeting held Friday, December 21, the Lower Merion Board of School Directors voted to exercise its right of eminent domain on two adjacent properties -- a 10.4-acre site at 1835 County Line Road and a three-acre site at 1800 W. Montgomery Ave., both in Villanova. 

The vote to enact eminent domain comes after a November 19 move by the District to approve an agreement of sale for 7.56 acres of land at 912, 916 and 922 Spring Mill Road. 

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The District changed its plans for those Spring Mill Road properties after conducting an investigation, which discovered wetlands on the properties. That discovery meant the properties would be more expensive and more difficult to develop for field use.

The vote to purchase the Spring Mill Road properties happened after six months of debate over the district's plans for this middle school and its former desire to seize land for athletic fields from the public garden at Stoneleigh. That idea had angered local conservationists and led to legislation from the state government in Harrisburg to stop the plans.

"This vote represents an important step in Lower Merion School District's ongoing effort to deal with the challenges posed by enrollment growth," said the District about the eminent domain vote in a press release.

Under the terms of the District's proposed offer, the owners of 1835 County Line would receive $9.95 million and the owner of 1800 W. Montgomery will receive $2.96 million. Both would be allowed to remain on their properties with construction not beginning until 2023. The new middle school is scheduled to open in 2022.

"These combined sites are the best available choice for fields for the 21st-century middle school that the District is planning for 1860 Montgomery Avenue," the District added.

These properties are closer to the middle school site than the Spring Mill Road properties, which will result in lower transportation costs. 

After the vote, Dr. Melissa Gilbert, President of the Lower Merion Board of School Directors, said, "The Board is thrilled that we are able to acquire these properties. It's a win-win for our community. The sellers are being appropriately compensated. Our students get the best school and fields that we can provide. And all of the taxpayers who support our schools will reap the benefits as well."

"For the District, these properties have many advantages over others under consideration – such as Spring Mill Road. And I'm confident our residents would rather see the land being used by their neighbors than by college students who don't live in Lower Merion or Narberth," she added.

Besides being closer, these Villanova properties are on a flat plot of land, unlike the Spring Mill road properties. This will make field construction and layout easier for the school district.

But the Spring Mill Road properties aren't completely out of the picture. The Board plans to reassess the need for the Spring Mill properties once further inspection is performed on these new properties on County Line and Montgomery roads.