Students are organizing to oppose the Lower Merion School District’s plans to raze a wooded area — home to towering tulip poplars and red and white oaks — to build practice athletic fields for the nearby Black Rock Middle School.
As Grid has reported, the school district acquired the land this year for about $13 million through eminent domain.
According to the district’s plans, 538 trees with trunks more than six inches in diameter will be cut down. (Thirty-seven of these would likely have needed to be cut down anyway.) Many of those trunks are much, much larger, including some that are five feet in diameter and taller than 80 feet.
According to a district representative, there are plans to plant 631 trees around the new playing fields, but those new trees would take 100 years to match the size, splendor and stored carbon of the current giants.
In 2018 the Lower Merion School District had planned to seize the neighboring Stoneleigh preserve to build a new middle school. The district dropped the plan amid a groundswell of public opposition and a new law, inspired by Stoneleigh’s plight, that requires court approval for seizing conservation easement-protected land by eminent domain. Instead the district seized the nearby Clairemont Farm/Morris Clothier Estate and built Black Rock Middle School there. In search of more space for athletic practice fields (these would be in addition to the playing fields on-site at the school), the district set its sights on Oakwell.
The Lower Merion School District’s Environmental Club has now offered an alternative proposal, to use the 13 acres as an outdoor learning space.
“Use the 13.4 Acres of land owned by LMSD as a space for teaching kids about the natural world and strengthening our community,” the club argues on its website. “To create a space for Arts classes to work in nature and for science classes to explore an incredible range of hands on learning, from Environmental Sciences, Biology, and Earth Sciences, to Agriculture, Conservation and Climate Change. To utilize the incredible historic significance of buildings on the property in World and United States history classes. To improve health and wellbeing through access to green spaces, and through community gardening. To make a space for community, and serve as a model for other schools.”