Washington School to be charter site in Penn Hills

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Penn Hills council Monday approved a request from a charter school that wants to convert the former Washington School on Universal Road into a second location for its program.

In July, Penn Hills council denied a request from Imagine Penn Hills Charter School of Entrepreneurship to continue to use three outdoor trailers as temporary classroom space at its school on Verona Road. To remedy their space problems, school officials asked for -- and received -- approval of a conditional use for the former school at 1700 Universal Road.

The former school has been used since 1975 for office space and light industrial manufacturing, most recently by Anter Corp.

The 2.76-acre site is zoned for residential use and is surrounded by residential properties.

Charter school officials have proposed building a 36,000-square-foot, three-story addition to the building and installing landscaping, sidewalks, new access drives and drop-off areas in the rear for buses and parents. The building will be used to house grades 3-8.

Currently, 375 students are enrolled in K-4 in the school at 200 Penn School Drive, the former William Penn Elementary school.

According to Chris Blackwell of the municipality's planning department, schools are among the acceptable conditional uses for properties zoned residential.

"It is a compatible use with residential zoning, in fact most of our schools are embedded in neighborhoods because kids used to walk to school," Mr. Blackwell said. "In this case, the proposed use meets all of the conditional use requirements in the ordinance. I think the fact that it was at one time a school building and it is bordered on all sides by residential property makes it a good fit."

Discussion by council members largely focused on the safety of the entrance to the property from Universal Road and access for emergency vehicles.

"Because of its location, the way the road curves, there is a blind spot," Councilman Gary Underwood said. "Nobody goes 25 mph on that road. There should be a speed zone sign with blinking lights."

School officials responded that a traffic study is in the final stages and will address the need for crossing guards at the school. In addition, the first phase of an environmental assessment has been completed and revealed that no asbestos is in the building. Soil testing will be conducted soon.

In other action Monday, council approved awarding a $95,415 contract to Pampena Landscaping and Construction of Pittsburgh to reconstruct a bridge leading to the water pollution control plant on Sandy Creek Road. The deteriorated condition of the bridge has led to traffic weight restrictions, preventing large trucks from getting to the plant. Of the seven bids received, Pampena was the lowest.

Mayor Anthony DeLuca swore in four new police officers: Matthew J. Benick, Lindsay A. Johe, Adam E. Lawrence and Dennis E. Robi Jr.

education - neigh_east

Tim Means, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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