Penn Hills council grants conditional use for new Imagine charter site
By Patrick Varine
Published: Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Penn Hills Council has granted the Imagine Penn Hills Charter School of Entrepreneurship conditional use to operate a new campus.
Council voted 3-1-1 on Sept. 16 to allow URPD LLC, a Mt. Lebanon-based corporation formed in June, to renovate the former Anter Corp. building at 1700 Universal Road and use it as one of two buildings to house Imagine charter school students.
Several conditions accompany the approval, including an order to determine whether 60 parking spaces are sufficient for the proposed use.
Council members also expressed concern about the location, atop the crest of a hill on Universal Road. Councilman Gary Underwood said school officials should consider hiring an off-duty police officer to control traffic on the road.
“The posted speed limit is 25 mph, but I can tell you, no one drives 25 on that road,” Underwood said.
Municipal Manager Moe Rayan also noted the potential for slippery conditions along the road during the winter months. Project officials proposed converting a small access road, located off the crest, into the main entry and exit point for school buses.
Another condition requires that existing curb cuts along Universal Road, at the crest of the hill, be closed except to service and emergency vehicles. Councilman Gary Underwood voted against the conditional use, and J-Lavon Kincaid abstained.
Plans presented to council call for renovating the existing building, which was a school until 1975 and most recently was used for light manufacturing and offices, and building a 36,000-square-foot, three-story identical building on the property. Ultimately, the campus will house charter school students in grades 3 through 8.
Underwood asked to see all architectural documents, “or else I'm ready to make a motion to table this until we do have everything.” The municipal solicitor told him those documents are not required at a conditional use hearing, and will be reviewed by the planning commission before council's final vote.
Imagine is the only brick-and-mortar charter school in Penn Hills. School officials' original expansion plans first were modified when it became clear that additional Penn Hills School District buildings would not be going up for sale within the anticipated timeframe.
Imagine purchased the former William Penn Elementary to use as its current campus, and planned to buy other buildings after the school district opens a consolidated elementary center. That new school is expected to open in June 2014.
Imagine's back-up plan, which involved leasing space in a Penn Hills professional park, was thwarted when the property went into receivership. Andy Schaer of Carnegie-based Tusk Development, who is working with Imagine on the expansion, has said the plan is to have the new campus, with the new, second building, ready for students by the start of the 2014-15 school year.
Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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