The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

May 16, 2013

Forest Hills discusses variances

Justin Dennis

SIDMAN — Members of the Forest Hills school board, currently working with engineers and architects on the new, consolidated Forest Hills Middle High School, met with the Adams Township Zoning Hearing Board on Thursday to discuss four variance allowances to township ordinance.

All were met with approval from the board and general community support, although minor restrictions were placed.

Project engineer Keith Gindlesperger of H.F. Lenz Co. presented the most important variance request first – a height increase of 32 feet, 6 inches above the maximum township-ordinated building height of 40 feet.

The three-story structure will cover 200,000 square feet. Its highest point, roughly 72 feet, is reached by facades that will hide HVAC systems placed on the roof of the school.

Gindlesperger told the board that building upward, rather than spreading out the building’s “footprint,” was the impetus be­hind many planning and design decisions.

“The soils in that area are what you would consider unstable,” he said, adding that a wider footprint would create a significant financial impact on the project in terms of ground testing and the laying of new foundation.

Roy Hoffman, Adams Township roadmaster, expressed concern that third-floor windows – planned at 39 feet – could be too high for local fire truck ladders to reach. Gindlesperger referred to a coalition between the Richland Township and Portage fire companies to respond to emergency situations at the new school, allowing use of Portage’s 75-foot ladder and Richland’s 100-foot ladder.

The second variance pertained to the width of the 493 current parking stalls, which are set at 9 feet although township ordinance requires at least 10 feet to minimize stormwater runoff.

Gindlesperger estimated the cost of widening the spaces at $50,000, with indirect costs coming through new earth disturbance measures that would need to be taken.

John Cordek, who lives just across from Forest Hills High School’s G.H. Miller Field, said he was wary about increasing incidences of stormwater overflowing near the area, which flooded at least one nearby resident’s basement.

After adjournment, Cordek met with Gindlesperger in front of the site plan easel. Gindlesperger showed him how the new system would actually be relieving the stressed area by diverting runoff away from the high school, down Locust Street.

The third and fourth variances involved temporary and permanent signage for the new school.

Restrictions were placed on the LED message sign, which is similar in height and function to the Forest Hills Pharmacy sign – no animation and a message delay of at least eight seconds.

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