NEW CASTLE SCHOOLS Council to vote on changes

Construction could be delayed another year if a decision isn't made quickly.
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- City officials say they will decide July 31 if the school district will get approval of changes to its plans for a new city high school. The issue will be voted on in a special meeting at noon.
Council conducted a nearly two-hour hearing Monday night on the changes, which include adding an auditorium balcony, wider roads, extending a street and more parking.
Those changes are part of a larger plan to demolish the 90-year-old school and construct a campus-style building on the same spot.
Street plans: School officials say they decided to widen nearby roads and extend a street after hearing the concerns of fire chief James Donston, who said it would take an extra 30 seconds for firetrucks to reach homes behind the school because a portion of Reis Street was closed.
Donston said Monday the district's proposed changes should alleviate those concerns.
The district wants to extend Berger Place from Reis Street to East Street and widen sections of Berger Place and East Street, from Lincoln to the new section of Berger, from less than 25 feet to 30 feet.
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 opposed: Council's decision to close a portion of Reis Street for the school is being appealed in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court by nearby residents.
James Geddis of 310 Reis St., one of the neighbors involved in the appeal, told council that even with the changes, he's concerned that emergency responders won't reach his house quickly, especially when the school day ends.
"I never go anywhere from about 2:30 to 3:10 [p.m.] because the traffic is so bad. I can't get to my home without risking my life," he said. He added that a newly opened restaurant off East Street has also increased traffic.
Geddis' attorney, Charles Cusick, argued that there would be an increase of noise and traffic if the school plan is approved. He said the district hasn't gotten the necessary subdivision approvals needed to create a new street and the request for a conditional use was premature.
"The district has to know what it is permitted to do before we can apply for a subdivision ordinance," said school solicitor Thomas Piccione.
Concerned about delays: He asked council for a quick decision because a hearing on the property owner's appeal is set for Sept. 24. Piccione said any delays in that hearing could set the school building back another year. Construction is set to begin in the spring.
"The longer it takes, the more this project will cost," he said.
The addition of a balcony and more parking are part of an effort to accommodate the entire student body, Piccione said. The original plans called for an 800-seat auditorium, but 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.

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