by Pete Mazzaccaro
Springside Chestnut Hill Academy has a new building planned: A lower school nestled along a stretch of the Wissahickon that will house all of the schools children, from kindergarten through fourth grade.
The three-story structure will serve as a lower school for both boys and girls at the school and sit close to the edge of a 10-acre plot of the Wissahickon woods owned by the school.
The building is the centerpiece of the school’s master plan, which began several years ago with the renovation of its campus athletic fields along both sides of Willow Grove Avenue.
The new lower school will have a common central area and two wings – one for boys and the other for girls.
The move, according to SCH president Priscilla Sands, is in keeping with a master plan goal of creating a unified lower and middle school on the grounds of what used to be Springside School and moving the upper school to the campus of what was Chestnut Hill Academy – the Wissahickon Inn and its adjacent structures, including the new science center.
That master plan was the work of the Philadelphia architectural firm Wallace Roberts and Todd. The plan for the new lower school was recently completed by New Studio Design in Minnesota
At present, the school has a great deal of common classes, but the classes are largely separated by gender the way they were before Chestnut Hill Academy, a boys school, merged with Springside, a girls school. The middle and lower schools will continue to be divided while the upper school will become truly coeducational.
Sands said that the lower school of Springside will be razed to make way for the new building.
“We’re committed to repurposing our buildings,” Sands said, “But so many architects have said it cannot survive. It needs a new roof, HVAC on last legs, everything leaks.”
But tearing down and replacing is not something Sands said she envisions for the school.
We have a commitment to our historical relevance to this area,” she said. “We want to tear down as little as we can. We’re not in the facilities arms race.”
The new lower school is the cornerstone of making that transition. But that transition is not the only consideration. Sands told the Local that part of the school’s educational foundation is environmental science and that the woods next door are one of the school’s greatest assets.
“We wanted to think of our place on the Wissahickon,” Sands said of the school’s design. “Our children go into the woods all the time. Our upper school has done longitudinal water studies in the Wissahickon that have been used by the Water Department for 18 years.”
The new lower school’s south and west walls will face woods where in recent years, children have created a natural, wooded playscape. That play space and trails to the creek will be easy to access for school children.
“Trips to the Wissahickon are my favorite field trips,” Sands said. “Now the boys and girls will be right there.”
The school will soon be going to the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s various zoning review committees but has already met with neighbors and the Friends of the WIssahickon, an organization Sands said has been instrumental to the success of the recent field renovations.
“They were enormously supportive,” she said. “They helped us with everything from planting to storm water – an incredible amount of money was spent on the fields. We plan to do that with this building, and they have been part of that conversation, with the placement of the building.”
Sands said fundraising is ongoing for an estimated $25 million it will cost to build the school. If all goes well, construction will begin in the spring with the hope that it will be completed in a year.