By Blog-Lebo Guest Correspondent Bob Williams
From projected parking nightmares to traffic logjams, losses of the existing tennis courts and possibly an athletic field, the footprint of the new $115 million Mt. Lebanon High School has already begun creating more work for the district’s problem solvers.
And there’s more hurdles likely in the future, say sources close to the district. While none of these known obstacles threaten the viability of the project, they will add substantially to overall costs of the school renovation. So far, school board members seem willing to forego the extra cash in favor of the $115 million renovation plans recommended by Celli-Flynn Brennan Architects.
At the onset, parking shortages will likely lead to more costs. With new parking spaces estimated at $2,500 a pop, Architect Tom Celli suggested school board members attend an upcoming commission meeting to lobby for a waiver of the 637-space requirement stipulated in Mt. Lebanon’s code. Right now, there are about 500 spaces at the high school. That number is expected to be reduced even further--not increased--after relocation of the six tennis courts wiped out when the natatorium goes up.
With forecasts of increases in other public recreational services in the new high school, and only 462 spaces in the latest design, visitors to the school may be tempted to park on Lebanon, Miami and Florida avenues, and Towercrest Drive.
But that’s not what Commissioner Dan Miller wants to see.
“I do not want to see those neighboring streets turn into a traffic mess,” Mr. Miller said. “That is my ward, and there is no parking permitted on those streets for school functions. I do not want to see that policy change.”
Of concern to Mr. Miller was the possibility of making Horsman Drive a two-way street instead of one-way. To do that, some parking and possibly student drop off lane frontage on Horsman might be lost. District officials engaged Trans Associates earlier this summer to perform a traffic study on the viability of making Horsman two-way.
“When I heard about that, I said ‘whoa,’ you are using the municipal traffic engineer for a study? In the summer, on a roadway that is more heavily used when school is in session? I told Steve(Feller), I want to be briefed on the findings, and the traffic study should be done once school opens. As far as what the district wants to do, they have leeway on their property, as long as it does not impact the adjoining neighborhood,” Mr. Miller said.
Regarding the zoning requirement for the number of parking spaces, Mr. Miller said the district needs to find out how many spaces they need, based on projected usage and amenities offered in the new building.
"Whatever that number is, that's what they should provide," Mr. Miller said.
On Aug. 17, Board President Alan Silhol suggested talking to the municipality about locating the existing tennis courts (six) on basketball courts owned by the recreation department. That option, he said, would allow for some additional parking.
“But what about the basketball courts,” Mr. Miller asked. “Where will they go, and who will pay to move them?”
There’s also extra costs for making Horsman Drive two-way. These would have to be borne by the district and are not in the current estimates. Some of that funding could materialize if the municipality waives the fees it charges all developers for a building permit. District officials have already asked that these fees be waived. In the case of a $115 million development, that fee could approach $1 million.
Finally, architects from Celli-Flynn Brennan met with Mt. Lebanon resident and structural engineer Dirk Taylor on Aug. 17.
Mr. Taylor has been a structural engineer for nearly 30 years, with extensive experience in school construction projects. For the past 15 years, Mr. Taylor has been Mt. Lebanon’s “go to” engineer for structural issues in all 10 school buildings.
Mr. Taylor’s examination of one of the schematic designs for the high school project raised several “red flags,” that to him warranted further study before going forward.
The lengthy document Mr. Taylor prepared includes drawings and explanation of structural “red flag” issues he saw in his professional capacity. They include but are not limited to walking distances for students, classroom size, building size, temporary classroom pods, athletic spaces and LEED certification.
“Yes, we met on Aug. 17, but right now I think it’s important that the architects have a chance to brief the school board,” Mr. Taylor said. “As far as my position is concerned, nothing has changed from what I put in my original report. I stand by it, and I hope the school board will consider my conclusions.
“If not, I am going to be pretty disappointed. In time, I will be more than happy to discuss this, as it is extremely important to the community,” Mr. Taylor said.
Labels: high school renovation