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May  12,  2010

Community center seeks to own part
of Mount Pleasant school building

Edgemoor Community Center proposes to acquire the portion of the building housing Mount Pleasant Elementary School that it has occupied since 1989. According to Chris Koyste, the community center's lawyer, state Senator Harris McDowell has agreed to insert a provision into the epilogue to this year's capital spending bill to make that happen.

Koyste told Delaforum that the arrangement would be akin to subdividing a structure and the land on which it stands into separately owned townhouses. Clayton Atley, a member of the community center's board of directors, said less than a third of the property would be involved and the transaction would not interfere with the operation of the school nor the Brandywine School District's intention to relocate its administrative offices there later this year.

Brandywine superintendent Mark Holodick said it "would be a little premature" to comment on the proposal because it has just been received. A private meeting to discuss details of the proposal has been scheduled.

"At this point we're open to all ideas and suggestions," Holodick said. "Whatever is decided has to be good for both the district and the community center."

Koyste also indicated that, after 21 years of close active cooperation and common interests, the community center has no desire to create an adversarial relationship with the school district. "We see this as a good opportunity to create a win-win situation for both of us," he said.

What brought about the decision to seek separate ownership was receipt in March of notice from the district that it was going to take the community center's playground and play field behind its side of the building to provide parking for employees who will work in the administrative offices. As Delaforum previously reported, the district also has sought to negotiate a new lease which, among other things, would require the community center to pay $1,000 a month rent. Since it has occupied the east portion of the building the community center has paid a token $1 a year.

Community center management was taken aback by the manner in which the notice was presented. "We didn't participate in the decision. ... They just told us it was going to happen and [asked] when were we going to move the playground," Atley said.

The district in 2008 reclaimed an area in the basement which required the community center to renovate another area to accommodate tenants who had been there at a cost of $18,000, he said. "That was the first time ever that they moved to take back anything."

The 14-acre Mount Pleasant property extends along Duncan Road between Philadelphia Pike and Brandywine Boulevard near the incorporated town of Bellefonte.

McDowell's provision in the legislation, which is commonly referred to as the state's annual bond bill, would not amount to confiscation, Koyste explained, because the property is state owned with the title nominally in the school district's name as an agency of the state.

Atley said acquiring clear title to the portion of the property it occupies would eliminate a long-standing concern. With an annually renewable lease, the community center could be evicted at any time. Consequently, it finds it difficult to obtain grants to finance its activities and to borrow money.  "We're [currently] paying on a loan with 7% interest because we're an unsecured creditor," he said.

The proposed new agreement provides that, after five years, the district can evict the community center upon three-year notice.

The current agreement with the district provides for the community center to fully maintain its portion of the building and to pay for heat, light and such. Several years ago the community center, with approval from the district and financial support from the community, built a $1.5 million addition to the building.

The building was empty when former state Representative David Ennis arranged for the community center to receive financial support to relocate there from what previously had been Edgemoor Elementary School, which was closed after public school districts were reorganized following federal court-ordered desegregation in the late 1970s, Koyste said. "At the time, it was intended as a community facility," he said.

After Mount Pleasant Elementary opened, a mutually beneficial relationship quickly developed, he said. There is internal connection between the two entities which allows for such things as members of the Sellers Senior Center reading to and having other activities with the young children. The community center also provides before- and after-school child care.

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Read previous Delaforum article: Brandywine district seeks new leases with community centers

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