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North Hills

McCandless set to consider NA's plan to renovate, expand McKnight Elementary

Tony LaRussa
| Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018, 4:30 p.m.
McCandless council is scheduled to vote Oct. 22 on whether to approve site plans for an estimated $18.2 million expansion and renovation of McKnight Elementary School.
McCandless council is scheduled to vote Oct. 22 on whether to approve site plans for an estimated $18.2 million expansion and renovation of McKnight Elementary School.

McCandless council has scheduled an Oct. 22 vote on whether to approve the North Allegheny School District’s plans to expand and renovate McKnight Elementary School.

School district officials appeared at council’s agenda meeting on Oct. 8 to outline the project, which includes major changes to the site such as reconfiguration of the area where parents drop off and pick up children, relocation of play areas to make room for a 5,400-square-foot addition to house art classrooms, improvements to the loading dock area and the addition of a canopy over the main entrance.

At the request of the town fire marshal, more room will be created in the rear of the building to improve access for fire trucks. Several fire hydrants also will be relocated. The new design also creates space for vehicles to park in a paved play area during evening activities. The building, which was last renovated in 1999, also will get a new roof, windows and doors.

Rob Gaertner, the North Allegheny School District’s facilities directors, told council that while improvements are being made to the exterior “much of the work being planned will occur inside.”

A big part of renovation includes “relocating classrooms, modifying existing spaces and converting the old history area into classrooms,” Gaertner said.”We are making a really significant investment in the facility.”

During a Sept. 26 NA school board meeting, Cassi Renninger of VEBH Architects, said the extensive interior modifications and upgrades that will be made include new flooring and ceiling tiles throughout the building, the addition of air conditioning to the gymnasium, updates to the library and lobby and remodeling the cafeteria to include a stage. The district has budgeted $18.2 million for the project.

One issue that will have to be resolved before work can proceed is whether the district will have to comply with the town’s requirement that a sidewalk be installed along the front of the property, which faces Cumberland Road.

Gaertner characterized that portion of the project as “unbuildable” because of the topography and the existence of underground utility lines.

“Even if we spent the hundreds of thousands of dollars to build the sidewalk it would lead to nowhere,” he said in reference to the fact that there are no sidewalks on either end of the district’s property.

There was an agreement between council and Gaertner that even if it were feasible to build a sidewalk, it might not be a good idea to encourage people to walk on a road with such heavy motor vehicle traffic.

Gaertner requested that the district be released from the requirement.

But town officials noted that one of the things that emerged during the long-term comprehensive planning process McCandless has undertaken is the need to connect neighborhoods and make the community more walkable.

While McCandless does not currently have an ordinance that allows developers to put the equivalent cost of installing a sidewalk into a dedicated fund in lieu of actually doing the work, it has been a topic of discussion.

Last year, Ross created a so-called “in lieu of” law that requires such a payment from developers when installing a sidewalk is not feasible. The money is set aside to improve existing sidewalks, add new ones in areas that make sense, or to pay for hiking and biking trails.

McCandless officials said while sidewalk waivers are no longer being granted, the town might consider suspending the sidewalk requirement and making approval of the project contingent upon the district either making a payment equal to the cost of installing one or agreeing to pay for improvements to walking trails near McKnight Elementary that might be more useful.

Manager Toby Cordek said any payment the district will be required to make would likely be based on the cost of a sidewalk built on flat land with few obstacles — estimated at between $6 and $12 a square foot — not the cost of installing one on the existing school property, which Gaertner estimated could cost as much as $50 a square foot.

At $6 a square foot, the in lieu payment for a 5-foot wide, 1,5oo-foot sidewalk would be $45,000. At $50 a square foot, the payment would jump to $562,500.

Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tony at 724-772-6368 or tlarussa@tribweb.com or via Twitter @TonyLaRussaTrib.

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