Southeastern PA

Upper Perkiomen residents turn out to oppose new middle school

New school would replace aging building

PENNSBURG, Pa. - Residents of the Upper Perkiomen School District in Berks and Montgomery counties had a final chance Wednesday to voice their grievances about a proposed multi-million dollar middle school.

Nearly 300 residents packed the school district’s education center in Pennsburg, with about 40 of them taking to the podium to read from their prepared remarks. Another 30 residents were ushered into an overflow room to watch the meeting being live streamed on a giant projection screen.

The meeting might be the last chance residents have to attempt to thwart the Upper Perkiomen Middle School project in Upper Hanover Township that they believe is too expensive and unnecessary.

"I fear for my property value. It is declining," Pennsburg resident Cathy Davidson said. "I already have a neighbor that has lost cash money offer for the sale of their house."

Davidson, like many other residents living along Montgomery Avenue, said she’s also concerned about the construction that would require digging through the hard bedrock. The bedrock cannot be removed by using hydraulic rippers mounted on a bulldozer, according to a report conducted by geotechnical engineering firm David Blackmore & Associates Inc.

"It is expected that the removal of hard bedrock will require the use of hydraulic hammers or explosives," according to the report. "The use of explosives, if permitted by local authorities, shall be completed with maximum precaution due to the close proximity of Montgomery Avenue and nearby residential development."

District officials claim a steady enrollment increase over the course of six years and the aging infrastructure in the existing middle school in East Greenville are some of the reasons the school board voted to approve the construction of the new school in Pennsburg.

The new middle school would sit on a 43-acre property between the Green Lane Reservoir and Montgomery Avenue. The building would house grades six through eight and be adjacent to the current high school.

The current middle school building was built in 1947 and has since undergone five renovations and additions over the years.

"While the building is still in fair condition, its overall renovation would be required to have the building function as a 21st century middle school," district Superintendent Alexis McGloin said. "And the district’s board does not believe that  it is prudent to once again expand an aging building."

Jennifer Sands, a lone supporter of the proposed new middle school, said that evolution of technology and curriculum demand the change that others need to embrace. She said the current building cannot house this change.

"The [Perkiomen] Valley doesn't look like it did 25 years ago, so why should our middle school? We need to change with the times and give our students the best," Sands said.

Annette and Dennis Murphy have been living in neighboring Red Hill for 16 years and can see the current high school from their home. They're now both retired and live on a fixed-income. The couple said they don’t get anything for their taxes and the cost of living will only increase for them.

"We're seriously thinking of selling our house and moving out," Annette Murphy said.

If state officials approve the project, construction would begin this summer, with the projected 2019 completion date.

The Act 34 hearing, also known as the "Taj Mahal Act," requires school districts to submit any plans for new construction to the Pennsylvania Department of Education for review and approval. Keeping in line with state law, districts hold a subsequent public hearing where residents are allowed to lodge their comments and complaints.

The Upper Perkiomen School District comprises Upper Hanover and Marlborough townships and the boroughs of East Greenville, Green Lane, Pennsburg, and Red Hill in Montgomery County and Hereford Township in Berks County.

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