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Climate activists rebuke Lower Merion (Pa.) district’s development plan

May 10, 2021
The suburban Philadelphia school district wants to build sports fields on a site that has 500 mature native trees, many of them over 80 feet tall and over 5 feet in diameter.

The Lower Merion (Pa.) School District  is facing objections from local environmentalists as it looks to build sports fields on an area covered by hundreds of trees, many of which are more than a century old.

The district in the suburbs of Philadelphia has struggled for years to find a site for the fields, reports WHYY-Radio. In 2019 the district acquired land near Villanova University with wetlands that are home to about 500 mature native trees, many of them over 80 feet tall and over 5 feet in diameter.

The proposal to tear down the trees to build middle school sports fields has mobilized environmentalists to fight the district’s development plans. Last month, protesters demanded that officials look for greener site alternatives.

Eurhi Jones, a muralist and climate activist, says the district’s plan to cut down hundreds of mature trees in a forest setting to make a “monoculture of grass” would release harmful levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Lower Merion School Board president Lucy Klain says the district has considered other sites before focusing on the tract in question.

“We all know its location isn’t ideal, but open space is limited in our inner-ring suburb,” Klain says. “We also know some of the alternate properties that have been suggested, none of which are available to the district.”

Previously, the district considered building onto existing middle schools and adding additional classroom space to address its growth. needs. But the district says those solutions don’t address long-term facility needs.

The district proposed planting trees on new sites across the area, but environmentalists argue that the district’s plan to plant new trees does not fully replace the ecological value of older ones.

The district asserts that the carbon emissions resulting from deforestation could be less than that generated by busing children to other sports fields.

Klain says other potential sites “have their own carbon impact. So a one-time tree removal versus ongoing additional buses … we need to look at the overall impact.”

District officials say they will submit their official proposal next month to the township.

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