NEW CASTLE, PA. Planners give nod to school changes

A 400-seat balcony would be added to the auditorium.
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- City school officials want to add an auditorium balcony to the plans for a new high school, along with wider roads, an extended street and more parking.
Members of the city planning commission gave the plans a favorable review Tuesday. City council will ultimately decide if the changes to the school plans will be approved.
The city's approval is required because the district needs a conditional-use permit for the construction of the new high school.
Plans call for a campus-style school to be built in place of the current 90-year-old structure. Several nearby homes are being demolished for the new building and a city street was closed.
Fire safety: But concerns about fire safety to homes behind the proposed school were brought up at a public hearing when council decided to close a portion of Reis Street for the school building.
City Fire Chief James Donston had said the street is the most direct access to homes behind the school and that closing it would add about 30 seconds to firefighter response times.
An appeal of the city's decision to close the street filed by landowners and residents in that area is now pending in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court.
Street changes: School Solicitor Thomas Piccione said changes to the streets should help end that complaint.
Piccione said the district wants to extend Berger Place, which now ends at Reis Street, to East Street.
The district would also pay to widen sections of Berger Place and East Street, from Lincoln to the new section of Berger, to a width of 30 feet, he said. Both are now under 25 feet wide, according to architects designing the school.
"This will allow firetrucks to make two rolling turns rather than one sharp 90-degree angle turn," Piccione said.
The district has not studied how this will affect firetruck response times to the homes behind the school, but it should make access easier, he said.
The previous plan did not extend Berger Place, but did have a private, school-maintained road connecting East Street and the remaining section of Reis Street.
Residents said they were concerned that a delivery truck dock on that private street would block the way for emergency vehicles.
Architects say that delivery dock has been moved and that the extension of Berger Place will be a public street.
Balcony: The balcony addition to the school auditorium is an effort to accommodate the entire student body, Piccione said. The original plans called for an 800-seat auditorium, but the district enrollment is about 1,100.
The additional 400 seats will also mean the need for more parking. City zoning and planning codes call for one parking space for every three seats. Additional parking was added to several planned parking areas, eliminating some green space to make up the difference, said Robert Naugle of Eckles Architecture.
Piccione said the district may come back to city officials later for a variance to have that reduced, but current plans call for those added spaces.
Naugle said costs for the project should not change with these additions. He said they have eliminated other things from the building to bring down the cost. The most significant change is reducing the basement size from 30,000 square feet to 8,000 square feet.

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