The Horsham Land Reuse Authority - the local entity tasked with adopting a redevelopment plan for Willow Grove air base - at its board meeting Wednesday afternoon approved the revised use of the former Army Reservce Center by Hatboro-Horsham School District.
Plans have been underway for some time to transfer the property from the federal government to the school district. HLRA Executive Director Mike McGee told Patch that he did not know when the land transfer would be complete.
"The Army wants to get rid of it," McGee said, adding that the property would be conveyed to the Department of Education and, from there, to the district.
In addition to when Hatboro-Horsham School District will own the land, the other question involves how the land, which is situated along Route 611, across the road from the still fenced-in Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove, will eventually be used.
Provided that the district vows to build a school on the grounds within 30 years, the government land can be acquired for free, officials have said.
Bob Reichert, the district’s director of Business Affairs, said he anticipates that the district will make a final “definitive decision” on the rebuilding of 50-year-old Hallowell within the next 12 months.
“There are still a lot of demographic and long-term comprehensive building issues to be addressed,” Reichert said.
In February, the Hatboro-Horsham School board, during a facilities committee meeting, discussed the possibility of demolishing the existing Hallowell Elementary, as well as the Army Reserve Center, and building a new elementary school on what is now government-owned land.
McGee called the possible construction of a school on the property "a smart move" and said it would be "for the betterment of the taxpayers."
If the district does not build a school on the property within the 30-year timeframe, the federal government would take it back, McGee said.
Originally the district had requested the land for additional playing fields and to expand the district’s transportation area bus garage and relocate maintenance equipment. But, during the February meeting, officials had said that committing to building a school there would save the district $300,000 in land acquisition fees.
“Right now our best thinking is a school rather than playing fields,” Reichert had said.
One of the biggest unknowns, district officials had said, was how safe the land – which had housed gas and diesel tanks – would be for school use. Four months ago, the board authorized an environmental assessment to determine if petroleum or other hazardous chemicals have impacted soil or groundwater at the former Army Reserve Center.
Reichert told Patch that based on the district’s study, as well as those conducted by the Army, the land is safe to house a school in the future.
“The property was found to be clean from contaminants,” Reichert said of results from the district’s $27,000 environmental site assessment.