452 South Roberts Road, “a generational opportunity”

A screenshot from the video Mr. Casertano sent to the Haverford community announcing the property purchase – Communications

Haverford is defined by its compactness. Over a thousand lower, middle, and upper school students squeeze into the roughly 26-acre space between Lancaster Avenue, Panmure Road, and Buck Lane. The school has pushed this small space to its limits.

     “We have maxed out what’s called our impervious square footage,” Head of School Mr. Tyler Casertano said.

     Haverford Township restricts the ratio of pervious land (where water can permeate into the ground) to impervious land (where material like concrete or pavement restricts water permeation) that Haverford can have on its property. Haverford School has reached the upper limit for impervious land. 

     “Every time that we want to build something, we have to take something away. And that creates huge limitations when you’re thinking about programming and the spaces that would deliver that program,” Mr. Castertano said. The black, rubber-like walkway in the quad that was installed last summer is technically pervious material. This, it seems, balanced out the expansion of impervious material from the new middle school. 

     But these small adjustments can only make minute differences. “There is a very real need for space on this campus,” finance and history teacher Mr. Brian Long said. 

     The Board of Trustees—the people who hold the real power over the school’s future—has been keenly aware of this problem for decades. Their solution to the problem, as stated in their strategic plan for 2020-2025, is “to develop a land acquisition strategy.”

     “What [the land acquisition strategy] has looked like over the past few years is buying up properties that are contiguous to campus, so properties on Railroad Avenue, properties on Panmure Road,” Mr. Casertano said.

     While buying these smaller properties close to campus, the Board kept an eye out for larger pieces of land that could fundamentally change the school’s programming. In January, a 43 acre property two miles away from campus—a seven-minute drive according to Google Maps—zoned for school use came on the market, and the Board took notice. The property was listed for $17.5 million, although this is not necessarily the price Haverford will pay for the property.

     “After a few months of research and due diligence, [The Board] really felt like it was a generational opportunity for the school,” Mr. Casertano said. 

     Gemma Services, the seller of the property, 452 South Roberts Road, accepted the Board’s offer in early March. Haverford is currently involved in due diligence work, an investigation of the property itself, and the Board expects the offer to go through in late spring. The property currently consists of a large estate built in 1907, classrooms, a gym, and dormitories to fit the needs of Gemma, which provides education and support to at-risk children. 

     “We are delighted that the property will be used to continue our legacy of providing educational opportunities to youth,” Gemma wrote in an announcement on their website.

A screenshot from the video Mr. Casertano sent to the Haverford community announcing the property purchase – Communications

     Haverford currently has no “predetermined use for the land,” but the Board and administrators have ideas about how they will and will not use the property. 

     “One, we’re not going to move this whole campus over there. This [450 Lancaster Avenue] will still be the primary campus of The Haverford School,” Mr. Casertano said. “Two, we’re not going to become a boarding school. We’re not going to merge with another school or go coed; we are going to maintain our identity as a boys’ day school in suburban Pennsylvania that is at 450 Lancaster Avenue.”

     The South Roberts Road property would help the 450 Lancaster property maintain its impervious-to-pervious land ratio.

     “If we were to move certain things from here over there that are impervious, it would then allow us to do certain things here that we currently can’t do because we’ve maxed out the square footage,” Mr. Casertano said.

“Every track runner would love that, to have an official track that is up to regulation that we can host meets on.”

Colin Kelly ’23

     The ways that the school realistically could use the land are numerous. Some ways Mr. Casertano suggested the school could use the South Roberts Road property are as a space for a new Dining Hall, a student center, a track, a space for parking, and even a cross country course. Because of the compact nature of Haverford, our current track is misshapen and not suitable for meets, and Haverford has no cross country course.

     “I think every track runner would love that, to have an official track that is up to regulation that we can host meets on,” Fifth Form cross-country and track runner Colin Kelly said. “It would make a very positive impact on the track program as a whole. If we could even have a cross country course, then we would no longer have to scramble to make a new course every year for EA Day.” 

     The fate of the grand 1907 mansion on the property—the former home of Samuel Robinson, the cofounder of Acme Markets—is unknown. Haverford is more concerned with fulfilling its institutional needs than preserving the old mansion.

     “I would be getting ahead of myself to speculate on whether or not we will or we won’t, but based on the conversations I’ve had, we’d really like to so long as we can find a use that is strategic,” Mr. Casertano said. 

     In coming years, the school will consult with its community and decide how to use the land. In the meantime, however, Haverford still has to pay for the property. With an endowment of $114.7 million as of January 31st, 2022, a statistic Chief Financial Officer Mr. David Gold provided, a purchase in the ballpark of $17.5 million is not insignificant. 

     “We haven’t finalized the financing, but what I can say is that the finance committee spent a lot of time working through the best way to fund this so that it had minimal disruption to the endowment and to the operating budget. And then ultimately the way that we will fund it in the long term is through fundraising,” Mr. Casertano said.

     With the combination of rising real estate prices in the suburbs and rising interest rates, if the school were to borrow money for the purchase, it could be expensive.

     “The housing market has been pretty hot over the course of the past couple of years,” Mr. Long said. “Interest rates are rising. So that does make the cost of borrowing money a bit more expensive, but it still seems to be pretty reasonable in the marketplace.”

     If the transaction continues as expected, the sheer size and capability of the property would provide a historic and sudden shift in the history of the school.

     “One of the things that I love about this place is the togetherness, the sense of community, camaraderie, the amount that you all see of each other and bump into each other. And [the property purchase] introduces a degree of separateness that is different and new,” Mr. Casertano said.

“The only way for us to get it right is to do a lot of listening and have all of this process be rooted in engagement.”

Head of School Mr. Tyler Casertano

     Maintaining the camaraderie of the current campus with the expanded resources of the South Roberts Road campus may prove to be one of the biggest challenges of Mr. Casertano’s tenure.

     “The last thing that we want to do is make any decision that will either be obsolete or unnecessary in five, ten years. We’re making decisions for 20, 30, 40, 50 years, which is really exciting, but also heavy. We’ve got to get it right,” Mr. Casertano said. “But again I think the only way for us to get it right is to do a lot of listening and have all of this process be rooted in engagement.”

Author: Joey Kauffman '23

Joseph Kauffman is a Managing Editor for The Index, a position he assumed in May 2021. He previously served as editor of the Features section, where he won a Silver Key from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards for his features piece “Students Ponder The Social Dilemma.” His review of the movie "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" also earned him second place in the Pennsylvania Press Club Annual High School Journalism Contest. Before joining The Index, Joey spent a near decade in Lower and Middle school, workshopping with his peers. When not writing articles, Joey can be found at various restaurants across the Delaware Valley.