The Urbana Planning Commission on Monday approved Urbana City Schools’ preliminary site plan for the construction of a new high school at 500 Washington Ave., the current site of the district’s high school and junior high school.
The motion, which passed unanimously, is contingent upon the school district being granted a variance by the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to allow for fewer parking spots than required under the city’s codified ordinances. The motion also states the school district and its architectural firm will work with the city prior to submitting a final site plan to address the comments and concerns made the city’s Technical Review Committee.
The preliminary site plan presented during the meeting outlines the construction of an all-brick, 88,326-square-foot high school designed to serve 480 students. To carry out the district’s vision for the future, the existing high school and junior high will be demolished, but the “Castle” along with the gymnasium and auditorium will remain.
The new high school, which will be built just east of the current one, will stretch from north to south on the property with the main entrance facing the west just as it does today.
The north end of the school will feature the gymnasium and cafeteria, while the south end will be a two-story academic wing.
According to Michael Myers, project manager for Fanning Howey Associates (the firm hired by the school district to handle the project’s architectural work), both wings of the high school will be 25 to 30 feet tall, but the building will be built five to six feet lower in the ground than the current high school/junior high.
“The building is going to sit down a little lower, so it won’t be sitting at the existing grades there,” he said. “This will help us with the perspective or the scale of the building relative to the surrounding residential properties.”
Addressing the Castle, future access points
Myers said discussion continues about how the district will use the two sections of the current facility that will be spared during demolition.
“The Castle building has no defined function right now,” he said. “It’s intended the gymnasium and auditorium will continue to be the district’s primary auditorium, and the gymnasium itself is going to be a secondary gym should the district need to have an event in that space.”
Urbana City Schools Superintendent Charles Thiel confirmed the access points currently being used will remain the same for the new facility.
The preliminary site plan calls for Carson Street to be used by buses, while all other vehicles will enter from Washington Avenue, using the current drive behind the gymnasium/auditorium, which will be one-way. Vehicles will exit onto Washington Avenue via the current drive in front of the gymnasium/auditorium, which will also be a one-way drive, featuring left and right turn lanes.
Students and visitors will also be able to access the facility by using the East Lawn Avenue parking lot, which will require some walking from the lot to the rear entrance of the high school.
Thiel said the district is working to deter use of the alley that runs from just behind the gymnasium/auditorium east to East Lawn Avenue.
“One of the things we wanted to deal with is the alley just to the south of the (proposed) building,” he said. “We’ve really tried to minimize the use by anybody from school.”
Parking spots to be eliminated
Community Development Manager Doug Crabill informed the Planning Commission that one of the bigger issues the city’s Technical Review Committee has with the preliminary site plan involves the number of proposed parking spots onsite.
Currently, there are 360 parking spots available on the high school/junior high property. Crabill said the city’s codified ordinances suggest the existing parking count should be maintained during the new build. The district’s plan for the new high school facility, however, calls for only 301 parking spots.
Thiel said the 360 parking spots currently onsite never get fully used, including the East Lawn Avenue parking lot.
“Right now on a daily basis in that lot there are 60 student cars,” he said, adding the lot contains 180 to 190 parking spots.
When asked about parking during football and basketball games, Thiel said, “The East Lawn parking lot never, ever gets fully utilized. Even at football games, there is capacity. (Eventgoers) use the city streets (to park).”
Thiel added, “The Ohio School Facilities Commission co-funds parking. Its rate for a building our size is 172 parking spots, and we are proposing 301. The difference is all coming out of district funds to get that extra 130 spaces.”
Planning Commission member Richard Ebert responded to the district’s stance on the parking situation by stating, “As long as what you have is adequate, I don’t see an issue with it.”
Crabill told the Planning Commission that the district will have to seek a variance from the BZA to move forward with the project since the proposed 301 parking spots are 59 short of what’s required by city law.
The district’s variance is expected to be voted on by the BZA during its 6 p.m. meeting on March 14 in the upstairs training room of the municipal building.
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-652-1331 (ext. 1774) or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.