A tempest in an auditorium

How high is too high for a high
school auditorium? In East Marlborough Township it’s anything more than 35 feet
tall. That’s the maximum height limit for any building in the township,
according to its code.

Yet, the renovation project for
Unionville-High School has part of a building, the part housing the new
auditorium, coming in at 58 feet high, almost 20 feet higher than permitted. Are
poor math skills at fault or did someone simply oops?

In all townships, land
development and construction plans have to show the building footprint, the
landscaping and lighting, square footage, the number of stories and the
elevation of the structures before they are approved. The township engineer and
the zoning and code enforcement officers review the plans and sign off on them
before they go to supervisors for final approval. Planning commission members
also review the plans.

That’s simply municipal government
procedure. It’s the way it is in Chadds Ford, Concord, Birmingham and Pennsbury
townships, any municipality in the state.

And it’s not like construction
is hidden. The height of the building can be seen from Route 82.

Somehow, with all those eyes on
the page, no one saw that the high school renovation project included a
building that exceeded East Marlborough Township code.

How?

According to East Marlborough
Township Manager Jane Laslo, nobody knows. In an interview before the May 24
Zoning Hearing Board, Ms. Laslo said the elevations were not shown on the
plans, but the plan legend says there is a 35-foot height limit.

As reported, the
above-mentioned hearing was called so the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District
could file an appeal of the March 11 enforcement notice regarding the
discrepancy.

Here’s where it gets a little
contentious.

The district filed the appeal,
but said it really didn’t have to because, after going through all the
bureaucratic requirements, the township had to know how high the building would
be. Yet, the district is also challenging the height restriction because
township code says a building can be no more than 35 feet high or (emphasis added) it must be no more
than three stories high.

By use of the word “or”, the
district claims that a building may be taller than 35 feet if it’s three
stories or less. The auditorium is one story, but still only two stories if the
balcony is considered a story.

Maybe there’s a tap dance going
on from both sides of the dispute, though we are inclined—at this point
anyway—to think there was a quality control failure on the part of the
township.

The May 24 hearing was
continued until July 7 and that would seem to put the project on hold for a
little more than a month.

The sooner the resolution the
better for all concerned and the best resolution would be simply to grant the
variance. We recognize the township needs to maintain the integrity of its
ordinances, but we think that someone within the township fell down on due
diligence and let something happen that shouldn’t have happened.

Theoretically, the township
might be within its legal right to have the building torn down, but such a
decision would be a major mistake and likely won’t happen

While it’s up to an
applicant—the school district in this case—to follow code requirements, it’s up
to the township to see that submitted plans comply.

The high school renovation has
been controversial enough. It’s time to put that to rest, finish the job and
let the school get on with educating youngsters.

The township and district
should find a way to go ahead with the plan with no acrimony and both sides
saving face.

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2 Responses to “A tempest in an auditorium”

  1. brandywinebard says:

    From 1989 – 1999, I covered both the Unionville-Chadds Ford District as well as the Avon Grove District for a daily, local, newspaper.

    I covered several of the so-called “Taj Mahal” hearings in both districts when there was new construction.

    At one hearing we had almost 90 individuals who had signed on to speak at the microphone for their 60 seconds before the board.

    These heaings were always preceded by months and months of meetings with architects projecting computerized images on the screen for the board, the public and township officials. They couldn’t so much as add a piece of tile without someone standing up to object.

    Indeed- how could this happen in a district of affluent and educated residents?

    But as you mentioned, the most important issue now is to, “put that to rest…and let the school get on with educating youngsters.”

    Yesterday I went to settlement, selling my home in Chadds Ford of almost 32 years, having moved to a Williamsburg Colonial in the woods of West Goshen Township.

    I can almost laugh when I read this now. It’s not my money.

  2. lorrainest says:

    People have been too busy arguing with each other and taking opposite sides. Instead they should learn to work together. This type of thing would be less likely to happen.

    Polly Anna

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