Peters Township High School plan recommended for approval

Observer Reporter

The site plan for a new Peters Township High School has been recommended for approval by the township planning commission.

Peters Township Council now will vote on granting approval, which would pave the way for the $90 million project to advance, toward a targeted opening at the start of the 2020-21 academic year.

At the planning commission’s meeting last week, Mark Duane of Hayes Design Group, which is working on plans in partnership with Weber Murphy Fox, said the project could be ready to go out for bid in April.

“If all goes well, we get approval and all the permits are on board, we could begin moving some dirt probably in June,” he said.

The 298,000-square-foot, three-level school building is to be constructed on the former Rolling Hills Country Club property, the 180 acres of which has been split roughly 50-50 between Peters Township School District and the municipality, which plans to build a park on its half. A shared road, which has yet to be named, will wind through the center of the property to connect the abutting East McMurray and Center Church roads.

Plans call for 679 parking spaces to serve the school, including 386 for students – meant to accommodate all seniors and potentially all the juniors, according to Superintendent Jeannine French – and 220 for staff and visitors, in separate lots near the building’s main entrance, with a bus circulation area between.

The entrance, to be located on the upper level, leads into a sizable lobby that in turn provides access to administrative offices, school auditorium and 2,000-seat main gymnasium, while overlooking the cafeteria on the middle level.

“If you’ve been to Bethel Park High School, there are a lot of similarities here,” he told planning commission members, explaining the site features have guided the design. “We wanted to keep a lot of the natural terrain that’s on the site right now, so that lent itself to a three-story building.”

Classrooms mainly will be on the middle and lower levels.

An “athletic entrance,” to the right of the main entrance, is intended to serve the gymnasium and proposed natatorium. The latter is included in plans as a deduct alternate, meaning the school board can decide to retain it within the project or eliminate it, depending on budgetary considerations.

“There’s a lot of ‘zoning’ involved in this building,” Duane said about the physical separation of various sections, “which is going to add a lot of security to the school. Right now, as you go into our school, it’s really hard to block off different areas.”

The new building, which will replace the 50-year-old current high school, is to be accessed by the as-yet-unnamed road that effectively bisects the Rolling Hills property.

“The township and the school district are working together on the shared road and the traffic improvements along East McMurray Road, as well as Center Church Road,” township planning director Ed Zuk said. “It’s very important that we get those designed and permitted by (the state Department of Transportation), and under construction as soon as possible, because the school cannot open until all those improvements are in place.”

PennDOT administers East McMurray Road, from which the property was accessed while serving as a country club, prior to its closing at the end of 2015. A new access point is proposed to the east of the current location, configured either as a roundabout or signalized intersection with turning lanes added.

Along with recommending the high school site plan for approval, the planning commission also voted to recommend allowing the construction of two retaining walls that exceed the maximum allowable height. Christopher Remley, project manager with Civil & Environmental Consultants Inc., explained that taller walls are necessary to help preserve natural features where they are planned.