A rendering of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy's master plan.

by Karen Tracy

After more than a year of planning and input from many members of the community, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy has begun work on an ambitious and transformative campus master plan.

Unanimously approved by the school’s board of trustees at its June 1 meeting, the 10-year, three-phase plan will enable the newly merged institution to better utilize and leverage its combined 62-acre campus in a way that advances programmatic goals and provides a more coherent and enriched experience for students.

The plan, which has garnered enthusiastic support from the Chestnut Hill Historical Association, has been overseen by co-chairs of the SCH board of trustees’ Building and Grounds Committee and board members Henry O’Reilly and William Smilow – both Chestnut Hill business owners – and designed by architectural consultants Wallace, Roberts & Todd (WRT). The school also has a longstanding relationship with the Philadelphia Water Department, Friends of the Wissahickon, and the Philadelphia Horticultural Society and has sought guidance and approval on all actions relating to water collection, water management and landscaping.

Phase I, which began July 2, represents the most visible and dramatic changes to the campus landscape. The improvements will unify and enhance the campus green space, create new pathways and enable ease of movement between the previously distinct campuses and athletic fields.

Most noticeably, it has required the removal of many trees along Willow Grove Avenue and Cherokee Street to prepare the ground and build the infrastructure needed to correct existing water runoff issues that have been affecting the community for years and, indirectly, the Wissahickon watershed.

This earthwork will create a level and appropriately graded foundation on which to construct two new artificial turf fields and new pathways, which increase students’ safety as they move throughout the campus.

Maura McCarthy, executive director of Friends of the Wissahickon, said, “SCH has a good track record of responsible development in the community. This project provides an opportunity to significantly increase environmental value and storm water management.”

Tree-lined allées, landscaped sidewalks, and appropriate signage will frame the essential conduits around campus. Plans include the planting of more than100 indigenous trees, 16 to 20 feet tall, to line Willow Grove Avenue in addition to the allées created along the connecting pathways. Phase I has been funded by the school’s parent association through a fundraiser called “Common Ground” and by gifts from private supporters raised in the last year.

For the duration of July, site work will include earth moving in advance of the installation of four giant recharge beds, which will accommodate storm water runoff on every field, and a new storm water conduit on Cherokee Street. With the infrastructure work completed, final grading for the new fields will be completed in late August, with sidewalks, two new turf fields, tennis courts, tree replanting, and other landscaping carried out in September and October. The school expects to complete all of Phase I by November, weather permitting.

SCH Academy’s commitment to environmental stewardship of the Wissahickon and sustainability were two of the key drivers behind the decision to engage the services of WRT, a Philadelphia-based agency whose “integrated approach to planning and design creates sustainable buildings and landscapes.” As part of WRT’s planning process, they organized nearly 70 separate focus group meetings with students, parents, alumni, faculty, administrators, and neighbors over a 10-month period.

“Underlying this work,” said Dr. Priscilla Sands, SCH president, “is a conscientious and informed plan to enhance our green spaces and improve storm water management throughout our property. Careful, expert planning has gone into this process to ensure responsible stewardship of our land and our water runoff. We look forward to sharing our transformed campus not only with our students but with all the community groups that enjoy our beautiful campus.”

Phases II and III, also on the school’s docket, involve the construction of new academic buildings and additions and renovations to existing spaces expected to take place over the next 5-10 years. The exact time frame depends on a forthcoming capital campaign, but the earliest start (for Phase II) has been identified as summer 2014. Follow the campus master plan news and weekly updates at www.sch.org/campusmasterplan.

Karen Tracy is Director of Communications and Marketing at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.