I don’t know what else to call this post other than the address. If you go on Bacton Hill Road, we all pass it. It is after the walking/running trail breaks over the road and it is farther up on the right. It’s a parcel of land owned by Great Valley School District. It’s up the road from where the Great Valley Community Organization calls home.
Anyway, recently I saw the GVCO organization had an application in front of East Whiteland Planning Commission:
Applications: 1. Sketch Plan: Great Valley Community Organization: A.) Sketch plan for a proposed 41,128 SF athletic programs building, with a potential phase 2 for an additional 21,866 SF of building area. Playing fields are also proposed. The property is located on N. Bacton Hill Road, is 7 acres in size and zoned Industrial. B.) Conditional Use: To disturb an area of steep slope to permit the installation of an access driveway, parking and stormwater facilities as outlined as a conditional use in Section 200-57.F(4)
I have absolutely NO as in ZERO issue with the Great Valley Community Organization. They do great things in Chester County. BUT that land they are talking of acquiring part of was part of a huge extraordinarily controversial land purchase by Great Valley School District a few years ago. So extremely controversial it even made a Wikipedia page on the district. Here is a screen shot in case it disappears:
Here is the verbatim text from the Wikepedia page:
On September 15, 2008, the school board voted and unanimously approved the purchase of 49.4 acres (200,000 m2) of land for approximately $6.6 million. Located at 51 Bacton Hill Road, Malvern, this “Bacton Hill Land Purchase” generated some controversy amongst the public for two reasons: (1) the purchase was not discussed with the public prior to the meeting during which it was first announced, voted, and passed, and (2) the purchase price based on two land appraisals was brought under scrutiny when it was discovered that the brother of the real estate agent who set the price was involved with forming both appraisals.
Central to the controversy was the lack of public awareness, but also that the school board’s reason for the purchase was stated, “it is prudent to acquire real estate for the District’s potential future use.” The number of students educated by the district has not significantly increased, so many objected that there is no foreseeable “future use” and that the purchase was made in haste.
The two independent appraisals of the land’s price were brought into question as well because of the high price. After the purchase was completed, the board released a statement about the land acquisition, saying, “the per acre cost may seem high (at $135,000). But the purchase price is lower than two appraisals conducted on the site.”
Fueling the controversy, a member of the public requested the two appraisals be released under Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Laws. It was discovered that the two appraisals were both conducted by the same appraisal company, not two independent entities. Further, the appraisal company was owned by the brother of the real estate agent who first approached and ultimately sold the land to the district. Concerned over apparent misconduct, the appraisals and sale were eventually referred to the U.S. Attorney by this same member of the public. This information was presented to the Board during public comments at the School Board Meeting on March 16, 2009. Several questions were asked concerning who was involved in the deal, and who knew what when. The Board did not respond during the meeting, but the District’s lawyer attached a recorded statement to the public video of the meeting, stating, “the board considered these statements after the meeting, and while certain of them were factually accurate, the presentation was incomplete.”
The land is still held by the School District, and no confirmation or denial has officially been given. However, significant fallout appears to have occurred. Two weeks after the March 16 meeting, on April 1, Superintendent Rita Jones announced she intended to retire during the upcoming summer. In addition, all 4 board members who are up for re-election in the November 2009 election announced they would not seek re-election. Further, because Jack McDowell stepped down in April due to illness, only 4 of the 9 board members who were involved in the land deal were still on the board as of December.
Apparently this land purchase was a huge issue. It appeared in a bunch of newspapers:The Phoenix: Resident disputes school district property purchase
Journal Register News Service
EAST WHITELAND — A resident announced he has delivered documents regarding the Great Valley School District’s controversial land purchase to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Philadelphia.
Bruce Chambers, a member of the Great Valley Stakeholders and a candidate for school board, raised this issue regarding the Bacton Hill Road property at a mid-March meeting.
“It is unconscionable that the school board would be willing to spend over $6 million of our tax dollars on a land deal that was handled in this manner,” Chambers said in interviews last week.
The school board announced that it had purchased the 49.4-acre property at 51 Bacton Hill Road at its Sept. 15, 2008 meeting. The property, owned by Highmont Investment LP, was purchased by the school district for $6.6 million.
The board first disclosed that it had made a purchase at the Sept. 2, 2008 work session meeting.
Chambers has taken issue with several aspects of the purchase, including that he believes the property was not properly assessed. In particular, he believes it’s a serious issue that the real estate agent for the school district had the property assessed by his brother, who is a licensed appraiser.
This issue apparently tore the area apart at the time. The former school superintendent in Great Valley had the reputation of ruling with an iron fist, a veritable Queen Victoria. (Read an article placed in the Philadelphia Inquirer circa 1998.) And she was no stranger to controversy (see her Main Line priced salary circa 2007):A new contract at top dollar in Great Valley In a split vote, the school board OKd a $210,000 contract for its superintendent. By Dan Hardy INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
POSTED: September 19, 2007
Despite pleas from dozens of Great Valley School District residents saying that Superintendent Rita Jones was paid too much and has not produced a top-quality academic program, a lame-duck school board voted by a narrow margin Monday to extend her contract for four more years.
About 150 people attended the meeting. The board vote was 5-4. Residents opposed to Jones’ new contract said that a 2006-07 salary listing they obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of Education shows she was the seventh highest paid in the state during the last school year.
Jones’ current contract ends next year; the new one runs to August 2012. She is making about $204,000 this school year and will get just over $210,000 next August, with 3 percent increases in each subsequent year.
Jones, 58, who just started her 14th year in the 4,000-student district, is the longest-serving superintendent in Chester County.
Voting for the contract were board president Susanne Carr, Kevin McTear, Elizabeth McGarrigle, Katherine Pettiss and Melanie Scott. Voting no were vice president Nicholas Vastardis, Salwa Raven, Ralph Tang and Eugene Kozik….
Steven Kantrowitz said that Great Valley was a small district “with a very, very, very high superintendent’s contract.” To loud applause, he said: “It’s time, I submit to you, for a change.”
Jones and the board sat at the front of the room, listening impassively.
Then this:Superintendent, group leader share their views on issues at Great Valley The way the school board went about extending the contract of Rita Jones raised questions. By Will Hobson FOR THE INQUIRER
POSTED: November 18, 2007
The rift became very public on Sept. 17 when the Great Valley school board, by a 5-4 vote, extended Superintendent Rita Jones’ contract four years, despite a contingent of residents at the meeting who spoke out against Jones.
Many district residents were incensed that the only notice of the vote on Jones’ extension was a posting on the district Web site on Sept. 14. About 20 residents formed Great Valley Stakeholders, a group organized with the goal of changing the direction of the school board.
Members of the group helped spread the word of a write-in campaign for David Barratt, 45, to unseat the current board president, Susanne Carr (who voted in favor of Jones’ extension), who was running for reelection in Region I….
Using Tredyffrin-Easttown and Radnor School Districts for comparison, Chambers contends that spending per student is too high in Great Valley, and hasn’t resulted in a concurrent increase in test scores.
“We’re not saying the district is horrible; it’s a good district, but when you look at what we’re spending per student, we’re not getting what other districts are getting,” said Chambers, 56, father of two Great Valley High School grads….
The school board and Jones
All of Chambers’ claims stem from his central complaint that the board works too closely with Jones and the district, rather than in the oversight role school boards are intended for by law.
“The concern we have is not focused strictly on Rita Jones,” he said. “Our concern is more that the school board is not doing its job, that they’re not holding the superintendent accountable, not establishing meaningful goals. That they’re essentially allowing the superintendent to run the school board as well as the schools.”
So then you skip forward to 2009 when this land deal occurs. And after the land deal there seems to be a mass exodus from the school board and even Superintendent Rita Jones announces retirement? (Here is an article about her replacement Alan Lonoconus. Now since he has retired it is Regina C. Speaker Palubinsky, Ed.D.)
Two weeks after the March 16 meeting, on April 1, Superintendent Rita Jones announced she intended to retire during the upcoming summer. In addition, all 4 board members who are up for re-election in the November 2009 election announced they would not seek re-election. Further, because Jack McDowell stepped down in April due to illness, only 4 of the 9 board members who were involved in the land deal were still on the board as of December.
I will note at this point that a lot of the articles that WERE online about these school district issues back then (including school board minutes) have disappeared off the Internet from their original sources. The GVSD has a couple of recent years of archived video recorded minutes but I have not checked them out because they use a non-supported plug-in.
In May of 2009, The Daily Local ran an article about seven candidates running for Great Valley School Board seats. At the end of May 2009, Main Line Media News ran an article about a Great Valley School Board member stepping down. That even garnered a mention in a Charlestown Township newsletter back then.
So flash forward to now and the school district is now selling this land? And supposedly at the same price per acre as they bought it? Really? Is that true? And this site is close to the old lethal Foote Mineral Site? Mind you Bacton Hill Road is no stranger to industrial stuff. See what I found on a Google cache.
Bacton Hill is such a weird configuration of quasi industrial and industrial sites along with warehouses and such.
If the school district land is what is being sold or is under consideration for selling to that Great Valley Community Organization, I think there should be like two phases of environmental impact audits, right? And if the Great Valley School District isn’t interested in further testing, in my humble opinion the Great Valley Community Organization should pay for testing.
People have said there is some kind of report detailing past issues with railroads and chemicals and a pipeline company and clean outs across the road? Is any of this true? I am just concerned because well, you have to admit there are quite a few environmental hot spots around there.
Sorry I have a thing about places that might leave people potentially glowing in the dark (figuratively speaking) .
So anyway, I posed my questions to the Great Valley School District and others and these are the documents I got out of the conversations:
Look sorry to stir the pot, but if the Great Valley School District is going to sell this land to the Great Valley Community Organization, fine. BUT if there are going to be a lot of kids and so on around and active on this property would it hurt for the Great Valley School District to do some additional testing?
(A) A bunch of years have passed and what they have is old data and
(B) the whole land purchase was so steeped in issues and controversy why not make a clean break of it?
Instead of (C) telling me and others “The school board did not deem any additional testing necessary after the follow up investigation and testing on the site”?
We know so much more now how to be better stewards of the land and testing in a lot of cases is faster and improved so why not do it? Why not do things right this time?
I am sorry but this is why people no matter where they live have issues with school districts. Everything is done like they are secret societies with their own language and secret handshakes yet we the taxpayers pay for it all?
Look I appreciate the Great Valley School District sending me documents and answering questions but does anyone want to relive 2008 with the Great Valley School District? If the answer is “no”, how about some updated testing? Just to make sure that the amazing Great Valley Community Organization isn’t inheriting issues with this land that no one knows about? So many people have skeedaddled from the Great Valley School District since this land purchase happened on Bacton Hill Road, so why not better safe than sorry? After all even the current superintendent would have heard about this controversy considering she came from neighboring Phoenixville School District?
And again, if the Great Valley School District doesn’t want to do the testing, the Great Valley Community Organization should strongly consider it.
Thanks for stopping by.
A few days ago I wrote a post on my blog about people from Downingtown who lost their daughter to what seem like somewhat mysterious and very tragic circumstances. At the time, what hit me was the family member interviewed by the newspaper in Oregon was a stepparent. Jennifer is her name. Then I found out courtesy of a group we both belong to that she was a breast cancer survivor. So two things I could identify with. What has taken a couple days to germinate was something Jennifer I said that was also referenced in the article. Her stepdaughter was in a somewhat controlling relationship.
That aspect resonated with me this morning when as I was looking out our bedroom window I saw one of my neighbors from the neighborhood behind us skirting the edge of our woods walking with his dog. This neighbor was actually one of the first people I recognized in the grocery store after I had first moved to Chester County – I had known he and his wife from other neighborhoods at other times in my life.
My neighbor’s dog had found me actually not too long after we moved into our current home. It was one of those weird things, a dog comes out of the woods and you recognize the dog and on some weird level it is like the dog recognizes you. But that isn’t possible your rational self says, you haven’t lived here that long.
The dog comes up and literally sits at my feet. He follows me so I can get him on a leash, and as I hook him up it occurs to me who the dog is.
And I did know him. I used to play with him as a puppy and his humans were at one time neighbors who lived next door to my ex in the house I never lived in but was supposed to. So I called this dog’s humans and we had a laugh about how small the world is: we missed truly becoming neighbors before, yet now a few years later here we are, neighbors. A little farther apart but neighbors just the same.
Which brings me back to today. As I watched my neighbor walk through the edge of the woods with his dog I was struck again by something Jennifer who just lost her step daughter Rachel had said about controlling relationships. Her stepdaughter had been in one, according to her.
That is what I was thinking about today as I watched my neighbor walking with his now elderly dog and it made me reflective and a little sad. It also made me grateful again for my life today compared to what it might have been.
My ex had a very controlling personality. I did not realize it at first because it wasn’t something immediately apparent, nor was it always a “thing” across the span of years I was in the relationship. But the controlling did affect me. Sometimes it was a subtle “are you going to wear that” when we were going somewhere.
That was followed with an almost parental-like lecture on how I was supposed to behave and who I was supposed to speak to and not speak to. If I questioned that basically I got yelled at. The yelling at me would often occur as we were driving somewhere which meant whenever we arrived at our destination I would be a jumble of frayed nerves.
One of the things he never liked was me being chatty with his neighbors where we were supposed to live together if we had ended up marrying. His neighbors did lots of stuff together. They had parties and BBQs. I rarely got to go to any of those events. He went.
He also did not like it if I spoke to his siblings, which meant after almost a decade they never really knew me or to an extent I them. That made it super awkward every time I saw them or if they telephoned or emailed. I always felt, right or wrong, somewhat in a precarious position. I really had wanted to get to know these people I thought at the time I would someday officially call family, but I also didn’t want to piss him off. Among other things, I didn’t go to a couple of family weddings. Ostensibly it was “someone has to watch the pets” but there were so many things over the course of a decade that I was left behind on, kept seperate from.
So I said nothing. Did nothing.
While this was happening I didn’t realize that a lot of my own friends and family weren’t around me as much anymore.
When he left during that first night of that first blizzard of 2010 it was an odd jumble of feelings I had. On one hand I kind of felt devastated initially, but then I also felt guilty because of this over whelming wave of relief that came over me within a few hours.
Over those first few weeks those are the emotions I was fraught with. On one hand I was relieved, in other ways I was sad, and then I was guilty that I wasn’t more sad and was feeling relieved. And then my friends and family stepped forward from the shadows in which they had been watching me live my life and life moved on.
Today I was struck by how part of me was a little sad that I had never gotten to know my neighbor when he and his wife were my almost neighbors the first time. My current neighbors had moved into his neighborhood as an engaged couple buying their first home and planning their wedding. Over the next few years I watch them get married and start a family, and get a puppy. I liked them so much but was always afraid to get too chatty because I didn’t want to piss him off.
Until I became part of a normal, healthy relationship I never realized how much I had compromised myself and my feelings. It’s kind of surreal actually.
I almost didn’t write this post. But now I am glad I did. Realtionships are hard at times and work. But don’t make them harder on yourself than they have to be. After all, loving someone shouldn’t be about the fear of making someone angry.
Life is precious. Don’t waste it. Live it.
Thanks for stopping by.