Unassuming and often empty, two grass athletic fields sit on a bucolic corner that straddles Newtown and Radnor Townships.
But, if a private school and its developers get their way, the green space will soon look entirely different, with lights, turf, and reorganized parking.
The only problem?
Neighbors in both townships say they don’t want to live feet away from “a commercial athletic enterprise" — a field that they’ve been told may be used not only by Delaware County Christian School’s sports teams but also by outside leagues that wish to rent the space.
“Here we are with a school in a largely residential area that has enjoyed a bucolic and wonderful coexistence with its neighborhood,” Newtown Square resident Patti Wilson said. “Do we have to have Taj Mahal athletic fields? And do we need to be running them 24/7?”
To Main Line developers, top-notch athletic facilities have become a necessity if schools want to keep up with the competition. Three miles from Delaware County Christian, Episcopal Academy sits on a new $213 million campus with a pool, competition gym, field house, 10 squash courts, 14 tennis courts, and nine full-sized fields, two of which have turf and lights.
Public schools are looking to upgrade, too. On the other side of Newtown Township, Marple Newtown High School has for years been looking to upgrade its fields, add turf, and build a field house.
Delaware County Christian School, a private school with 600 students in grades pre-K through 12, has five fields on two campuses — a lower-school property on Waterloo Road in Devon and the Newtown Square campus for middle and high school students. The school has more than a dozen varsity sports teams. Although they disbanded their football team last season due to low participation, they recently announced plans to start an eight-man tackle football team next fall.
"The school needs to be responsive to the changing environment,” said Mike Rufo, president of Anchor Management Group, which is leading the project. “They need to stay vibrant not only in their academics but with their athletics as well.”
No plans are set in stone yet, Rufo stressed. Anchor Management Group has heard residents’ concerns, he said, and is working hard to address them.
Last year, rumors began circulating about the school’s plan for a new field to replace the current ones. In November, Rufo said his company notified neighbors of six on-campus meetings, which were held to let them know of preliminary ideas and to hear feedback as early as possible.
At the sessions, residents said they were informed that the school had hired Anchor Management Group to build a turf field with lights, a different parking setup, and new stormwater management. The Conshohocken-based company has worked on projects for many local private schools, including the Haverford School, Germantown Academy, and Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in Northwest Philadelphia.
In Newtown and Radnor, residents soon organized in opposition, with dozens attending a Newtown Township Planning Commission meeting last month. Radnor officials showed up, too, and have discussed the proposal at their own township meetings. They said they hope to provide their expertise to folks in Newtown, based on past zoning and school-field-construction issues in Radnor.
If the turf field with lights is installed, neighbors should expect activity into the night, said Radnor Township Commissioners’ President Lisa Borowski. Traffic will increase, too, she said, and not only at the intersection of Malin and Goshen Roads. Mobile GPS apps such as Waze could reroute drivers to side streets when the immediate area around the school is congested, she said.
“The fact that they want to take a field and turn it into commercial enterprise as well, that’s a huge concern,” Borowski said. “I think it’s important the neighbors are heard on this."
“The Radnor residents are going to fight this,” she added, "and they have our support.”
The impact could be felt elsewhere too, as residents of other townships in the densely packed western suburbs say they regularly drive through that neighborhood.
“Traffic-wise, it’s going to be a nightmare,” said Susan Miller, a Marple Township resident. “Back when these roads were designed, we didn’t have the population we do now.”
In the immediate neighborhood, folks also worry about near-constant activity from the field.
“The thinking is the field will be busy at nighttime. It’ll be busy on weekends," neighbor John McLaughlin said. “It’s a dark, quiet area at night. That’s the way we want to keep it."
Not all schools are so entrenched in a residential area, Wilson said, noting that Episcopal’s fields don’t pose many problems since they’re located on busy Route 252.
“I don’t think Delaware County Christian School gets it,” Wilson said. “They’re about to change the lives of the residents of the neighborhood dramatically.”