by Jonathan Weaver
While construction efforts are underway for a neighborhood school, architects must jump a borough zoning hurdle to ensure it can begin.
Ford City Zoning Hearing Board members are considering allowing a zoning variance at Ford City Jr.-Sr. High School to allow contractors to begin building necessary additions this summer in a district-wide construction plan with L.R. Kimball.
Hearing Board members met with contractors at a public hearing Thursday to discuss issues with the project and reasons not to allow the variance.
The high school is currently zoned R-2.
Zoning Board Secretary Mike Sinawski said borough planning commission officials pondered several questions at their February meeting, such as the school setback requirements, proposed building height and parking availability.
The new height of the school, which is estimated to top-out at 69 feet, 9 inches, would exceed the current zoning limit.
L.R. Kimball Marketing Segment Leader John Hummel said the main reason for the additions is to fulfill both educational and disability concerns.
“The need for that new addition is to solve the problems of inadequately proportioned educational labs, as well as the lack of handicapped accessibility to the building and problems with the internal circulation within the building,” Hummel said.
Title IX issues, which stipulate that both male and female athletes are to receive equal treatment and recreational opportunity, would also be solved with the added gymnasium and locker rooms.
The proposed gymnasium addition would violate the current zoned setback line, but Hummel said it is necessary to address school concerns.
Greg Schrock, of L.R. Kimball, said the addition is not substantial due to the current urban campus and acreage.
“We currently have about 71 percent lot coverage just on the building as shown,” Schrock said. “The addition would take that up to 78 percent, so we’re only adding seven percent to the building.”
The current zoning requirement requires at least 40 percent coverage.
Resident comments circulated around parking concerns Thursday night. Current construction plans call for the existing 4th Avenue parking lot to be resurfaced so that additional lines may be painted, but no additional parking lots are to be added. Additional parking is also available in an alley.
L.R. Kimball Landscape Designer and Ford City Site Designer Virginia Loaney explained reasoning for the parking decision.
“The current needs of the school and the future needs of the school do not require additional parking space than what is present on-site. With the six additional spaces, they’re getting more than they need,” Loaney said.
Ford City Councilman Ron Dilliard disagreed and suggested board members consider current traffic congestion along the roads before they decide on the variance. He questioned whether a parking garage was proposed to alleviate parking concerns, which Hummel said was not proposed because of the cost.
PennDOT officials are currently reviewing the site plans and are to either approve the current transportation layout and site design or propose additional vehicular methods.
John Rushford, an attorney within Donoro, Matta and Cambest of Pittsburgh, represented the school district and said the school has not been renovated since 1984.
Kittanning Attorney James Favero served as solicitor for the zoning hearing board.
If the board does not grant the variance, Hummel said the school district may need to pursue alternate measures, whether they are cost-effective or not.
“If this addition can’t be made, some accommodation to those needs still needs to be done,” Hummel said. “To do it without this addition is going to be more expensive, more difficult, more destructive, not only to the educational plan, but possibly for the neighborhood.”
Hummel said he thinks the addition would benefit the area.
“We’re confident this project can be accomplished for the benefit of the community,” Hummel said.
While many residents had questions regarding accessibility issues and construction concerns with the projects, discussion at the hearing was only heard regarding issues pertaining to the variance request.
Hummel said Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed education budget should not impact the Ford City financing.
No letters from neighboring residents were filed with the zoning board or L.R. Kimball addressing concerns with construction efforts.
Construction is estimated to begin in July and be completed by January 2014.
Board members have 45 days to deliberate on the proposed variance and render a decision in a public meeting.