Commentary: Conservation and preservation easements paramount to the Green Woods Charter School Proposal

Breaking News, Opinion April 12, 2011 0 Comments

Commentary: Conservation and preservation easements paramount to the Green Woods Charter School Proposal

By Jean M. Wallace, CEO, Green Woods Charter School

The Greylock mansion lawn as it appears now.

Have you ever been house hunting and walked into a home and immediately said to yourself, “This is it!”?  The house might need a great deal of work, but what you visualize as the end result is amazing. In the case of Green Woods Charter School’s proposed plans for moving into the Greylock mansion, we believe our plans are, indeed, amazing.

We have thought long and hard about how to combine our school’s environmental mission with the restoration of this beautiful historic mansion and its 6.7-acre site adjacent to the Wissahickon Park. While others who looked at the site may have found the current easements held by the Chestnut Hill Historical Society to be too restrictive, Green Woods has embraced the spirit of these easements.

We do not see them as obstacles to be overcome, but rather as opportunities to enhance this property while supporting best practices in education, conservation and preservation. With thoughtful design based on sound science, we believe we can meet and even exceed the intent of these easements. From the onset, it has been our goal to create a positive and lasting impact on this historic building, the Wissahickon Watershed and our Chestnut Hill community.

Certainly, we realized from the beginning that restoring and repurposing the mansion and property posed some difficult challenges relating to the preservation of the 1909 building and the management of storm-water runoff and traffic.

Just recently, while I was walking the property, it occurred to me how much the science of watershed management has changed in a century. For example, by replacing the impervious surfaces of the driveway and parking areas with porous materials, we can allow rainwater to remain on the property (where it belongs) instead of piping it underground through a series of conduits and forcing it directly into a tributary of the Wissahickon.

The lawn after construction will include a pond to manage storm water runoff, but the "skyline" will remain the same.

Also, while the current easements may insist on preserving the view of the expansive lawn, the scientific reality is that a lawn is much like asphalt in its negative impact on the watershed. Damage caused by runoff has a profound and negative influence on aquatic life, our own drinking water and everyone downstream. To manage this storm water runoff, we have proposed installing rooftop gardens, wetlands, a meadow, and even a retention pond at the base of the hill that will not only visually enhance the view for near neighbors but also create habitat for wildlife.

The easements on the mansion itself call for maintaining the façade and its view from the street.  Giving careful thought to this, our proposed design tucks some additional classrooms into the hill and behind tall evergreen trees. Other additional classrooms designed by our architect will be constructed behind the mansion and will be topped with green roofs, allowing for rainwater to be collected and absorbed.  The view of the property from the street will be enhanced, not diminished.

Along with our focus on conservation and preservation, we have always considered the traffic situation. Wanting to be good neighbors, we immediately turned to our experts to address the traffic flow, specifically during our 20-minute arrival and dismissal times.  Our architect, Joe Jancuska, and our Traffic Engineering firm, Stantec, have put together some interesting options that we look forward to sharing with the community. Currently, approximately 70 percent of our students arrive to school by bus, a percentage we intend to maintain.  The use of school buses minimizes individual car trips, benefiting both traffic flow and the environment. Significantly, all drop-off and pickup activity will occur behind the mansion.  Buses will not idle or load or unload on the street, as is often the case with other schools.

In the near future, we will hold an open house in the community where we will invite everyone to come and see our exciting plans. (Please watch our website—www.greenwoodscharter.org— for a date/time/location.) We want to show everyone our true vision for enhancing the site. It is important to us that the community knows we have given careful thought and consideration to our neighbors and the stewardship of Greylock. We do practice what we teach!

Finally, we couldn’t be more pleased by the overwhelming, positive response to our desire to move to Chestnut Hill. Thank you! With support and signatures from over 425 neighbors and near neighbors, we appreciate that others can see what we envision for this site.  In our ongoing conversations with so many people, clearly they believe that the time and effort we will take to restore the property will be worth it and that the end result will, in fact, be truly amazing.

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