The headline on the real estate listing read "Million Dollar View," and to Donna Moetsch, the description was right on the money.
She bought the home on Meadowbrook Lane, just outside Phoenixville, 15 years ago, and eased into an idyllic suburban lifestyle - hopping into her cart and crossing a narrow road to play golf as many as five times a week at the neighboring Meadow Brook Golf Course.
Today, the Chester County homeowner isn't attacking the greens, but joining with her neighbors in what may be a last-ditch stand to scale back the Phoenixville Area School District's plan to build six playing fields on the now-closed golf course.
The district, which encompasses Phoenixville and East Pikeland and Schuylkill Townships, has been among the fastest-growing in the state, as the once-faded borough on the Schuylkill has experienced a revival, and developments have sprouted in the area.
It says the $80.9 million plan to build a new campus that includes an elementary school and early learning center is an absolute must.
But a group of Meadowbrook Lane homeowners fear their once-bucolic street will be flooded with traffic, noise from loudspeakers, and pooling water.
"I'm sad as a homeowner and a golfer," said Moetsch, who complained that the fields could host a snack bar that's larger than her home.
Her neighbor, Kathleen Mraz, said she also is troubled by the proposal, arguing that the four baseball and two soccer fields aren't just too close to their homes but too close to each other. "Our engineer said [the fields] are shoehorned together to an extent there's a danger to the players," she said.
District officials thought the rancor over the new school proposal was behind them after its bid to take over the 43-acre golf course by eminent domain was approved by a Chester County judge last summer.
Instead, leaders of the roughly 3,600-student district are getting a lesson in the headaches of trying to expand after an era of post-Baby-Boom consolidation that included a trend away from smaller neighborhood schools.
Surge in kids
The Phoenixville plan for a larger, campus-style project with two schools and multiple athletic fields is part of a mini-wave of school-building - and ensuing controversy - in the region.
Superintendent Alan Fegley said the district continues to negotiate with wary neighbors while seeking final approvals from Schuylkill Township, where the property is located. It hopes to break ground this fall. The district would like to have the new schools - which replace a current kindergarten center and East Pikeland Elementary School - up and running for their 1,250 projected students by 2017.
"We're moving as quickly as we can in order to get this project underway, to get kids into classrooms and mitigate costs," Fegley said. District enrollment, which increased about 25 percent in the last two decades, according to state figures, will continue growing 2 percent to 3 percent a year, he said, fueled by projects such as the 600-unit apartment complex in East Pikeland now under construction.
The surge in kids has forced the district to erect 18 trailers at two sites. In addition, the superintendent said, the new athletic fields will end a chaotic situation in which 19 teams from the nearby high school and middle school are transported off-site to play.
The added cost of teaching more students, as well as skyrocketing pension expenses, have also meant that the Phoenixville district has one of the higher property tax rates in Chester County.
Phoenixville turned to a rare eminent domain process to obtain the golf course when the family that owned the 80-year-old facility couldn't come to terms with it on a price. The value has not yet been finalized, but the district has proposed $3.75 million, less than half of what the owners had been seeking.
The state Department of Education said Pennsylvania schools have only used eminent domain three times since 2011.
Meadowbrook Lane residents say the district hasn't been open with residents.
"Nowhere did the school ever come to the neighbors to discuss what they were going to build there," said Mraz's husband, John. "It was not until final designs were almost completed that they informed any of us they were going to build a 1,200-student school and six playing fields."
Another concern is the district's refusal to sign a covenant guaranteeing no lights will be installed for nighttime play.
Residents also say that the golf greens are contaminated by arsenic and that 300 trees would be cut town for the fields.
"None of us opposed a school," added Kathleen Mraz, who said the residents' main desire, reducing the number of proposed fields, was blown off by district officials. "We were told they absolutely had to have six," she said.
Peter Mercuri, president of the nearby Pickering Glen homeowners' association, agreed that Phoenixville district officials did not provide information about the plan until last summer and have been slow to respond to neighborhood concerns. "We have yet to see anything on paper," he said.
Fegley, the superintendent, said that neighbors who believe the fields will be used around the clock are mistaken and that the district is working to create a buffer with 170 new trees. He said some concessions have been made, but he also voiced the frustrations of a school leader who has been seeking a solution to an overcrowding crisis for years.
"We've been working hard to be good neighbors, yes, absolutely," Fegley said. "We had many, many meetings with neighbors and we're listening hard. Just because we can't do what folks want doesn't mean we aren't listening and trying to act responsibly."