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A new school's commencement

District leaders, students and alumni at a ceremony looked forward to the next Lower Merion High.

Although Lower Merion High School won't be torn down until fall 2010, alumna Selma Davis is already preparing to say goodbye.

"I'm quite nostalgic for the place. I feel a little sad," said Davis, a 1957 graduate who fondly recalled her time at the school, including the plays, the orchestra, and her "wonderful, fabulous teachers."

Still, she said, she's glad about the construction of a $108.5 million replacement with an environmentally friendly design. The Bala Cynwyd resident, with grandchildren in the Lower Merion School District, attended a May 23 groundbreaking ceremony at the high school's football field.

"It needs to be replaced, and I'm glad to see what's being done," Davis said.

What's being done is this: The affluent and accomplished Main Line district is replacing both of its high schools and working on a redistricting plan so that each will have about 1,250 students.

That would mean reducing enrollment at Lower Merion, now about 1,600, and increasing it at Harriton High School in Rosemont, now about 890. The district has scheduled public meetings on the topic.

The construction of a 225,000-square-foot Harriton High began at the school's current site in June. The school is expected to open for the 2009-10 school year at a cost of up to $102.9 million.

Construction of a 330,000-square-foot Lower Merion High began in February behind the existing property. Once the new school opens, all but one building at the current site will be demolished.

"The two existing schools are old, and they're tired buildings. They are beyond their useful lives," Superintendent Jamie Savedoff said after the groundbreaking, adding that the district was "moving into the 21st century."

The new Lower Merion High will include a 1,450-seat gymnasium, an 850-seat theater, 12 science labs, a swimming pool, a rooftop greenhouse, and classrooms designed for the latest computer technology. It will also have a recycled-stormwater drainage system, enhanced energy performance, and daylight harvesting, and it will qualify for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

New principal Sean Hughes, a former social-studies teacher, outlined the history of the school.

"William Faulkner once said, 'The past is not dead. It's not even past,' " Hughes said, adding that alumni would assure current students that "your memories of high school will never fade."

The school's history began in 1884 with the consolidation of the three village high schools of Merion Square, Bryn Mawr and Ardmore. The seven-member faculty offered a two-year course.

In 1908, school officials bought four acres on Montgomery Avenue for $7,000 apiece to build a high school that would accommodate 300 students.

The building cost $100,000 to complete in 1910, and was later dubbed "Old Main." More expansions took place before "Old Main" was torn down in 1966, replaced by the current high school.

The groundbreaking, on a windy but sunny Friday morning, featured performances of "Start of Something New" from

High School Musical

and the "Lower Merion March," first published in 1924.

The high school's band director, Aaron Datsko, created an arrangement for the march to include the entire band.

"It'll be nice to have updated facilities for students because conditions are cramped," Datsko said afterward. "A lot of the rooms, including the music room, are double- and triple-duty sometimes."

Student Council President Sam Helfaer emceed half the ceremony, then handed the reins to his successor, John Lundy. Although neither Helfaer, a senior, nor Lundy, a junior, will be around to take classes in the new building, they are excited for younger students, saying the current labs, classrooms and athletic facilities aren't up to par.

"We pride ourselves on being a leading school, and we are, academically," Lundy said. "But you go out to some of the other schools, and we definitely are behind in modernization. So we're just really looking forward to it."

More Information

To learn more about the new school, visit


and click on the High School Modernization link on the left.