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School Board Briefs Borough Council on High School Project

by on July 14, 2014 9:21 PM

Matt Harlow of the ELA Group, a Pennsylvania landscape architecture firm, told members of the State College Borough Council that he had “a very aggressive timeline” for the high school project in a special meeting Monday night.

Members of the State College Area School District administration, along with representatives from the two firms involved in the project’s design, briefed the State College Borough administration about the project’s plans before the school board and borough council’s regularly scheduled meetings.

Harlow said he plans for construction to begin next summer. In order to meet this tight deadline, construction documents will be developed at the same time as various approvals are sought from the local and state government.

Harlow said the $115 million project is situated on “a very challenging site,” but believes they can meet their goals to enhance accessibility for disabled individuals, successfully manage traffic flow and parking and improve storm water management.

Though the plans are still subject to revision, Harlow shared a series of designs detailing the proposed building footprints and layout on the Westerly Parkway site.

To improve traffic and pedestrian safety, Harlow said four-way intersections are planned for O’Bryan Lane and the Welch Community Pool. Buses will also have a separate entrance to the school than public traffic, which will help cut down on congestion.

Much of the existing parking lot on the north side of the high school campus will be renovated and expanded on, presenting “a very efficient and cost effective option to handle the bulk of the parking,” Harlow said. Additional parking lots on the south side – including a bus staging area that can double as event parking – will offer a flexible amount of space.

SCASD Director of Physical Plant Ed Poprik said that the high school planning team will likely seek an exemption from the borough on the total number of parking spaces required for the school. The number of spaces required is typically determined by the square footage of the building in question, though Poprik said he anticipates the project will require fewer spaces than currently mandated by the large square footage.

Some aspects of the plan’s traffic and access management are still under discussion. Harlow said a comprehensive traffic study needs to be done to continue with some aspects of the plan, including determining the number and placement of traffic lights. This study can’t be undertaken until September, when traffic patterns change as Penn State students return. The final placement and impact of the Parkway Plaza street also remain to be seen.

Jeff Straub – of Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associate Architects – told council the buildings themselves were designed to include flexible space to last for the next 50 years and accommodate usage needs throughout the construction process. He said allowing quick travel between classes for students was major concern for their design, as was grouping subjects of study together.

SCASD Superintendent Robert O’Donnell says this special meeting will allow for greater ease of communication in the coming months as the district works with the borough on several approvals, including for zoning and land development plans. 

The high school project, which was approved by public referendum back in May, was also a subject of discussion at the school board’s regularly scheduled meeting.

Poprik told the board that he has had “preliminary meetings with the core planning team” after the board approved working with the Massaro Construction Firm at their previous meeting. A final contract with Massaro will be brought for approval to the school board’s upcoming July 28 meeting.

Poprik said the July 28 meeting will be “a fairly substantial update” for the project. He plans to have two project calendars prepared for the board’s benefit – one that will detail the entire project in broad swathes, and a second that will include a more detailed, day-to-day timeline through the first 30 percent of the project’s timeline.

The board also approved an approximately $230 thousand project to improve the wireless and technology infrastructure of several elementary and middle schools in the district. Board members also discussed the possibility of expanding the district’s Mandarin Chinese courses outside of its learning enrichment program with the help of the Confucius Institute at Penn State, which will return on the July 28 agenda.

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Michael Martin Garrett is a general assignment reporter for StateCollege.com, a graduate of Penn State and a published poet. He's also a musician who plays bass in an indie rock band.
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