Green Woods Charter details multi-year move plan to Chestnut Hill

The public last night got its first detailed look at a charter school’s plan to move to a historic mansion in Chestnut Hill.

Green Woods Charter School, currently located in Roxborough, addressed members of the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Development Review Committee.

School officials and project leaders guided a packed house through its multi-year proposal for moving to the Greylock Manor at 209 W. Chestnut Hill Ave.

“We are excited about our school, but we are even more excited about the idea or prospect of sharing that school with this community,” said Jeffrey Hammond, a member of the Green Woods Board of Trustees, to the dozens gathered inside Chestnut Hill Hospital’s conference room.


Multi-year plan

The proposed project has three distinct phases.

Joe Jancuska, the project’s lead architect, explained that the first phase would focus on repairing and maintaining the aging manor’s facades. Constructing a 65-space parking lot behind the building and a new driveway would also be part of the initial phase.

During the second phase, a 16,000 square-foot addition would be constructed and extend from the building’s lower level. The expansion would feature a rooftop terrace, among other things.

The final phase of the project would add a second expansion that would feature 12 classrooms and an activity area or arts pavilion.

The plans also call for restructuring the property’s front lawn, which will include an eco-pond for educational purposes.

“We’re trying to come up with a strategy that laces our additions into the building without impacting the actual structures,” said Jancuska. “We are literally touching less than five percent of the existing building.”

Green Woods CEO Jean Wallace said that if given the green light, 150 of the school’s 225 K-8 student population would move into the current four-floor manor in September 2011.

The rest of the students would remain at the school’s Roxborough site until the following school year.

Over the next six or seven years, the school’s population would gradually grow to 675, if the city’s School Reform Commission approves the increase.


Neighbors weigh in

Residents were divided on Green Woods’ plan.

Those against the proposal were largely concerned that the tenants of two preservation-focused easements on the property would be potentially violated. The Chestnut Hill Historical Society, which holds the easements, would have to approve a series of amendments for the project to move forward.

Chris Gadsden, speaking on behalf of 100 near neighbors, said the Green Woods’ proposal flies in the face of a pair of carefully crafted documents.

“Easements are not just bumper stickers,” said Gadsden. “You don’t just slap them on and then when you’re bored with them, remove them.”

The estate’s easements – drafted in 2000 and 2004 – collectively work to protect from development the building’s facades and a large open field in front of the property with the goal of maintaining its original character. They also include restrictions on occupancy, parking and on-site events.

Gadsden and others also expressed concerns about traffic along Chestnut Hill Avenue and the surrounding streets.

“The traffic problems are going to be compounded soon by the impending expansions at [Chestnut Hill College] and Chestnut Hill Hospital. That just puts more traffic on Germantown Avenue and pushes more onto our streets,” he said.

Those in favor of the proposal welcomed the opportunity to have a well-regarded public school in a neighborhood with few free education options.

Seth Shapiro, resident and president of the Business Improvement District, said the community should welcome the chance to make Green Woods its neighbor.

“I’m very cognizant of one of the biggest issues confronting this city which is the lack of educational options for the middle class,” said Shapiro, who has a three-year old.

“If we can provide a quality public school option for families who live in Chestnut Hill, you’ll stop all of the young parents who are my wife and my peers, who have left the city as their kids turn three and four,” said Shapiro.


Need more time

The DRC voted to hold off on a recommendation that other CHCA committees –such as its Land Use Committee – further explore the school’s plans. Committee members were particularly interested in waiting until officials with Greylock Manor L.L.C., the property’s current owner, met with the Chestnut Hill Historical Society (CHHS) for approval.

Jennifer Hawk, executive director of CHHS, said Greylock Manor must submit a formal application to CHHS requesting the easement amendments.

Green Woods, an environmentally focused charter school, has an agreement of sale with Greylock Manor L.L.C. to purchase the stone building and the surrounding six-plus acre grounds for $2.2 million.

(This is an enhanced version of the earlier story. This now includes more details on comments neighbors made last night)

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal