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Solebury School acquires 50 acres to help it grow

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The Solebury School celebrated the acquisition of 50 additional acres to its campus Sunday, thus ensuring its ability to remain on its Phillips Mill Road site where it first opened in mid-1920s.

Because of zoning and land restrictions the private school was restricted from further building on its original 90-acre site, but with the addition of the 50 acres, it can now expand its facilities and its student population, said Jennifer Burns, assistant head of school for advancement.

“There have been moments where we wondered if Solebury School could even remain on this corner of Phillips Mill and School Lane,” she said, citing land and flood plain issues as well as the sinking water table due to the neighboring now-curtailed New Hope Crushed Stone Quarry operations.

“The quarry’s pumping of water – on average 3 million gallons a day – had artificially lowered our groundwater table. That lowered groundwater led to the occurrence of collapse sinkholes for the entire community. And what was an unacceptable circumstance for our school,” she explained.

After some 10 years of litigation by the school and Solebury Township, and support of the Primrose Creek Watershed Association, the state revoked Crushed Stone’s permit to mine and ordered it to restore the area’s water table level.

“Today, it seems that our future here is clear and thriving,” Burns told the celebratory crowd of about 70 people at the school grounds.

When an adjacent 50-acre tract of Crushed Stone property between the school and the quarry became available the school bought the land, bringing its total acreage to 140 acres, she said.

The $1.8 million price tag for the property and an existing house on the tract came from contributions, reserve funds, and the school’s endowment and was paid in full, with no resulting debt, she said.

Burns said, “Tom Wilschutz would tell you that if you had told him 10 years ago that this journey through litigation would take a decade, he would not have believed you. If you’d told him that we would be standing here today on an additional 50 acres of land, toasting the future of Solebury, he would have thought you were daft.”

The audience also toasted Head of School Wilschutz, who could not attend the event. He was called away because of a family emergency.

Solebury Supervisor Kevin Morrissey, who first worked with the school on the quarry issue 12 years ago as a member of the Primrose Creek Watershed Association, and later on the Solebury Board of Supervisors as liaison on the quarry issue, thanked those involved in the quarry issue including Wilschutz, Burns, the Primrose Watershed, Solebury School lead attorney Steve Miano, township solicitor Jordan Yeager, and former chair of the Solebury Supervisors Helen Tai, noting “her contributions in our discussions with the DEP at the time were invaluable.”

“We all worked together as we traveled through the technical and legal maze,” he said.

Scott Bolenbaugh, former Solebury School board chairman, told the audience “the planet and stars all seemed to line up” and “a lot of good luck based on a lot of hard work. We had the right people sitting around the right table and we had the support of our local government.”

On that, the crowd raised their glasses and drank to the future expansion.

The school’s first phase of its Master Plan, currently in design, is a new residence hall with integrated faculty housing and improving the school’s wastewater treatment facilities.

Development would take place on the original tract and not on the newly acquired wooded section next to the quarry, Burns said.

The college-preparatory school admits boarding and day students in grades 9 to 12. By 2030 the school wants to increase its 230-student population to 300, by increasing the number of boarding students.

Long-term plans include creation of a Learning Commons to to complement a renovated Founders Library, development of a new Student and Wellness center, a new Performing and Visual Arts Center and improving campus circulation with new parking and driveways.

This fall, Burns said, the school opened with its largest boarding school population in nearly 40 years with students from 14 states and five countries including China, Thailand, South Korea and Belgium.


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