CALM before the storm

This article covers the ongoing planning of the new middle school and the general community reaction regarding it. Moreover, it reviews a recent protest of the middle school and shares what is to be expected going forward.

Helen O’Grady ’23 and other members of Climate Activists LM (CALM) gathered outside the administration building to oppose the proposal to clear 502 trees across from the Stoneleigh site. | Photo courtesy of Charles Henneberry

LMSD is currently planning to build a new middle school that will open for the 2022-2023 school year. This is thought to be a necessary solution to the overcrowded classrooms in LMSD due to the rapid increase in students enrolled in the district over the past few years; this phenomenon has resulted in Merion Elementary School, Penn Wynne Elementary School, and Bala Cynwyd Middle School installing temporary modular classrooms on their respective fields and parking lots to accommodate the increased amount of students. Despite the demand for the district to fix the overcrowding problem, local activist groups are bothered by the loss of trees at the intended site of the middle school. This upset in the LM community led to a protest outside the Administration building on April 16.

Since 2018, there has been a plan in place for LMSD to begin constructing a new middle school, with the school being constructed on 1860 Montgomery Avenue. While the logistics surrounding construction of the school are not definite yet, administrators have planned the introduction of the new middle school to coincide with transitioning into a new fifth through eighth grade middle school model. Although there has been some controversy over the inevitable demolition of the historical Clairemont Farm/Morris Clothier Estate located at 1860 Montgomery Avenue, the sites that the community has really taken issue with are 1800 Montgomery and 1835 County Line. This area is currently heavily wooded, and the school district plans to remove 502 trees to clear field space for students. “An environmental tragedy is unfolding,” reads the text of a petition on change.org to save these woods. The text goes on to plead with the township and school district to “work together to exhaustively and completely explore all other options,” and asks that concerned citizens email LM School Board Directors to express their fears. The protest is sponsored by Climate Action LM (CALM), the same activist group responsible for organizing the April 16 protests. 

A flyer posted both on the Facebook page of the Wynnewood Civic Association and as an update to the aforementioned petition on change.org asked residents to join CALM in protest at the LM Administration building on April 16 to “stop the LMSD plan to clearcut 500 trees.” According to Noa Forher ’23, who attended the protest, about forty people answered the call and the protest lasted for about two hours. “I personally wanted to go because people have already torn down so much wildlife, and it would be horrible if they tore down hundreds of trees that have been around for a hundred years,” claims Fohrer. She also cites potential habitat destruction and increased global warming as the result of the removal of these trees as reasons she was motivated to attend the protest. Fohrer reports that while there, the people gathered “played music, voiced our opinions, and talked about the importance of these trees” before marching to the police station.

Despite its small size, the protest was somewhat effective. According to CALM’s website, LMSD withdrew its proposal to cut down 502 trees on April 19, three days after the protest. However, in the same post, CALM urged community members not to stop fighting, stating that “although a short pause has been achieved, we do not yet consider this irreplaceable habitat  to be ‘safe.’” CALM believes that the next step is for community members to continue writing to the School Board and the LM Commissioners to ensure that the new proposal, which is set to be presented in June, will have less of an effect on the environment.